Cimafunk was racing through the airport in Havana last month after spending five days in Cuba with his family. He had to catch a flight to Florida, but just before he boarded, his phone kept ringing again and again. When he finally answered, his team was on the other line, telling him that El Alimento — the funk album he’d worked on quietly with the producer Jack Splash in 2021 — had just been nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album.
“I kept saying, ‘Whoa. We did it, we did it, we did it,'” Cimafunk, whose real name is Erick Iglesias Rodríguez, tells Rolling Stone. He had to get on the plane and head back to the U.S., where he’s been touring non-stop the last few months, but he promises there’s a celebration in store the second he lands back home. “A party is waiting for me as soon as I go back in Cuba,” he laughs.
Cimafunk grew up in Pinar del Rio in western Cuba and started making funk music after moving to Havana. His first album Terapia raised his profile on the island, where he’d become a standout performer, but it was El Alimento that took his music across borders. The LP was a thrilling fusion of funk sounds sounds from the U.S. and Cuba, featuring collaborations with George Clinton, Lupe Fiasco, and Cuban luminaries like Los Papines.
“Truly, that album was a joy,” Cimafunk says. “First there was the fact that when it was done, I genuinely liked the music as a fan. It’s something I wanted to listen to. Then the Grammys were the final golden touch, in addition to how much love the record got from the press, the way people connected with it, all of it felt like a gift.”
El Alimento also set him up for a whirlwind year of touring, with back-to-back shows across the globe. (During our conversation, Cimafunk is actually at soundcheck before a concert in New York.) He played shows from Canada to Mexico to Morocco and hit festivals like Austin City Limits and Glastonbury. People raved about his live set, calling it a “mind-blowing non-stop dance party” and noting the “infectious energy” of Cimafunk and his band. For Cimafunk, all these performances have cemented why he wanted to make music to begin with: “You meet so many people, and everyone becomes part of something at the same moment,” he says. “There’s a point where everyone forgets who they are and where they came from, and they all meld together to enjoy the same experience.”
He jokes that he wasn’t always a natural onstage. “In Cuba, I’d get on stage and close my eyes and sing too far away from the mic;” he laughs. “People would be screaming, ‘Get closer to the mic!’ I was definitely shy at one point.”
As he began performing with different ensembles across the country, Cimafunk got more comfortable and found his own sense of showmanship onstage. Even so, he had occasional moments where he’d be filled with pre-show nerves. He remembers his first time in New Orleans, getting ready to share his funk and jazz-influenced sounds with a crowd. “Suddenly, I had those chills, like, ‘I’m about to sing this music here, where it was invented,” he laughs. “I had some anxiety, but when I started to sing, people really embraced what I was doing.”
Whether he’s playing a tiny club or gigantic festival, Cimafunk races from one side of the stage to another, amping up his fans and getting them moving. After wrapping a few dates in New Jersey and California earlier this fall, he’s now getting ready for one final show on New Year’s Eve at Grand Park L.A. After that, he has more dates on the way — as well as new music, which has been inspired by his live show experience.
“I’m working on a lot of new things right now and it’s focused on the groove I’ve been finding whenever I’m onstage,” he says. “It has a lot to do with the response to being in front of an audience, which has been playing a role in the arrangements and the rhythms. I want it all to capture how music feels when you’re seeing it in front of you.”