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Cimafunk’s Quest to Create One Nación Under a Groove

A few months ago in a Tallahassee, Fla., recording studio, the Cuban vocalist and composer Cimafunk was engaged in a climactic meeting of the minds with the Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton when they stumbled on a fascinating connection between African American and Afro-Cuban music.

Cimafunk, born Erik Iglesias Rodríguez, was scatting out the 1950s smash “Los Marcianos,” which instantly delighted Clinton, who had loved the melody of the song so much that he recorded an anthemic cover of it called “Groovealliegiance” for Funkadelic’s 1978 classic “One Nation Under a Groove.” But Clinton, who had created an Afrofuturist cottage industry with his band’s elaborate costuming and stage props, had no idea that the song was about Martians landing in Havana to dance cha cha cha.

“I was saying, brother, you wrote that song talking about the Mothership and that whole connection and you didn’t know that?” Cimafunk, 32, recalled in a video interview last week, standing in front of a South Florida building surrounded by palm trees and lush grass. “All those people like Pérez Prado, Chano Pozo, all that craziness made a mark,” he added, referring to the Cuban musical innovators. “It not only penetrated the instruments, but also the vocal rhythms.”

Afro-Cuban rhythms have mingled with African American ones going all the way back to late-19th-century New Orleans — distant siblings that intersected at key moments, like the gestation of jazz, the Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie era of Birdland bebop, and the stunning performance of Ray Barretto’s band in Questlove’s recent documentary “Summer of Soul.” But for Cimafunk, whose new album “El Alimento,” out Friday, is filled with star-studded collaborations with Clinton, Lupe Fiasco, CeeLo Green and the pianist Chucho Valdés, the time for fresh Cuban funk is now.

“What Erik has done is unite the two tendencies — Afro-Cuban and African American,” Valdés, the founder of the influential 1970s jazz/funk group Irakere, said in an interview. “He has converted this into a new school that until now I haven’t heard done.”

“El Alimento” is a frenetic joy ride of freewheeling blasts of percussive funk intercut with pumped-up versions of classic Cuban riffs called tumbaos, and even a nod to Michael Jackson’s famous quoting of Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa.” Yet Cimafunk also explores his compositional abilities and impressive vocal range on the blues ballad “Salvaje” and the Spanish-guitar-tinged “No Me Alcanzas,” featuring the classic Cuban percussionists Los Papines. While he wants to his voice to carry the entire lineage of Cuban music, he reminds me most of Benny Moré, who was also a self-taught vocalist that highly trained musicians pushed themselves to keep up with.

“What Cima is doing is like a brand-new funk,” Clinton said in a phone interview. “Tito Puente and that kind of stuff, Tito Rodríguez, all of that was my favorite music back in New York. The mambo and the cha-cha was the same as disco in the ’70s.”

Dressed in an African-inspired print shirt, and peering through a pair of oversize sunglasses, Cimafunk showed flashes of amused wonderment, as if he was both surprised by and belonging to the moment. When explaining details about writing and composing, he broke into song, and the birds in the surrounding trees joined him, seemingly inspired.

Born and raised in Pinar del Río, a town west of Havana, Cimafunk grew up listening to giants like Moré, Bola de Nieve, and Los Van Van and its charismatic singer Mayito Rivera. But he also encountered music from beyond the island, especially on TV programs like “De La Gran Escena,” where he saw Tom Jones, Phil Collins and Sting. On one of the new album’s signature tracks, “Esto Es Cuba,” he describes grooving residents of Guantánamo who were able to see live broadcasts of “Soul Train” because of the U.S. naval base’s antenna nearby.

Cimafunk’s conservative family pushed him to study medicine but supported him when he decided to move to Havana and pursue his musical ambitions. “At first I got into reggaeton because of the girls, and the fact that anybody with a sound card and microphone can do it,” he said. “Then I discovered the trova,” referring to an older genre centered on the ballad. “That where I started to write my songs with more structure — very odd songs that no one understood — the stranger songs you wrote, the more exotic you were.”

Cimafunk’s first album, “Terapia,” arrived in 2017 stocked with neo-trova exoticism like “Parar El Tiempo” and “Me Voy,” a danceable live favorite inspired by Nigerian Afropop and pilón, an Afro-Cuban carnaval rhythm. “Terapia” contained the seeds of the new album, and a mellower, ’70s soul groove. “El Alimento” (“The Nourishment”) has thoroughly transformed him into an international funk champion.

“I called it ‘El Alimento’ because making the album was what nourished me spiritually during the whole process of the pandemic,” Cimafunk said. He said he intends the album as a kind of descarga, a word that in Cuba means both a musical jam and a release of accumulated emotional baggage.

“It’s about the connection between the spirit and the body and the importance of release, and loving yourself,” he explained.

The album’s producer, Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, Solange), has fronted his own indie funk band Plant Life, and moved back and forth between Los Angeles and Miami, giving him a unique perspective on the Afro-Cuban/African American overlap.

“It’s two different sensibilities — even if you’re listening to the same funk, your swing might be a little different,” he said in a video interview. He said Shakira once asked him to add more syncopation to his standard beatbox rhythm track; on the new song “Estoy pa’ eso,” Splash and Cimafunk retool the “Shakira beatbox” to put a new spin on a sample from the American funk band Zapp, with mind-bending results.

While some of Cimafunk’s strongest supporters, like Splash, believe his sense of style — tightfitting clothing, Bootsy Collins-esque sunglasses — evokes Fela Kuti, comparisons to the Nigerian Afrobeat king go beyond appearance: Rodríguez is an Africanist who often begins concerts with an a cappella rendition of a poem called “Faustino Congo,” which Cimafunk said is inspired by Miguel Barnet’s “Biography of a Runaway Slave.” The “cima” part of Cimafunk is a reference to cimarrones, runaway slaves whose defiance paralleled that of Jamaican Maroons, an inspiration for Bob Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs.

“At first I grew up unaware — my family was Black and educated and felt they had to work twice as hard,” Cimafunk said. “African culture arrived in Cuba and changed everything! It’s the flow, the visuality, the concept, everything, and when I started to connect with that identity it was a relief because I arrived at a place of truth.”

Splash noted that funk was more than a sonic touchstone. “People were scared when James Brown said ‘I’m Black and I’m proud,’” he said. “They thought, ‘Does that mean James Brown does not like white people?’ No, that’s not what he means. ‘Let’s lift my people up.’” They found a similar moment in the party anthem “La Noche” from the new album, which features the dancehall rapper Stylo G and the Colombian Afro-funk band ChocQuibTown, whose lead singer Goyo shouts at song’s end, “Afro-Latin power!”

While he showcases the power of blending African American and Afro-Cuban music, Cimafunk is also engaging in a cultural mixing that celebrates a kind of Latin American hybridity, on his terms. He sees himself as part of a new generation that is destined to bring change.

“Now that we have the internet, you can know what’s happening in the world, and have a million different opinions, and choose the one you want,” Cimafunk said. “We started analog,” he added, “now we’re in a pot that’s boiling.”

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El Chapo’s Wife Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious Mexican drug lord best known as El Chapo, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison on charges of helping run her husband’s multibillion-dollar criminal empire and playing a role in his escape from custody after he was captured in 2014.

Ms. Coronel, a former beauty queen who married El Chapo — whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera — in 2007, on her 18th birthday, was arrested at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, in February, two years after her husband was convicted at a trial in New York City and sentenced to life in prison.

She had been in the cross-hairs of U.S. authorities for months. She ultimately pleaded guilty in June to helping Mr. Guzmán smuggle drugs across the U.S. border and make his dramatic flight from a high-security Mexican prison, an operation that involved a self-powered rail cart, a watch outfitted with a GPS device and a mile-long tunnel dug into the shower of his cell.

A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, Ms. Coronel has, like her husband, long been a figure of public fascination, a role that she has often stoked by her lavish lifestyle and her laissez-faire attitude toward paparazzi. At her sentencing hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, she expressed “true regrets” for her crimes and begged Judge Rudolph Contreras to ignore the fact that she was the wife of an infamous drug lord.

“Perhaps because of this, there is reason for you to be harder on me,” Ms. Coronel said. “But I pray that you do not do that.”

While it is unusual for law enforcement to go after the spouses of drug-world figures, prosecutors at Mr. Guzmán’s trial offered substantial evidence that Ms. Coronel, while still in her 20s, was deeply enmeshed in her husband’s criminal business.

They introduced BlackBerry messages, for instance, that made clear that she had helped Mr. Guzmán conduct his illicit operations, sometimes alongside her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, who was one of her husband’s top lieutenants and was taken into custody in 2013 in Mexico.

Other messages indicated that Ms. Coronel was intimately involved not only in Mr. Guzmán’s famous 2015 tunnel escape from Altiplano prison in Toluca, Mexico, but also in helping him to evade capture by American and Mexican authorities after a botched raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town Cabo San Lucas.

At Mr. Guzmán’s trial, his onetime chief of staff, Dámaso López Núñez, told the jury that Ms. Coronel had sought to help her husband escape from prison yet again after he was recaptured in 2016 and returned to Altiplano. According to Mr. López, Ms. Coronel hatched a plot to bribe Mexico’s top prison official, but Mr. Guzmán was extradited to the United States to stand trial before the plan could be carried out.

As part of her plea deal with the government, Ms. Coronel agreed to turn over about $1.5 million in illicit proceeds from her husband’s illegal operations. While she admitted to helping him move at least 450 kilograms of cocaine, 90 kilograms of heroin and nearly 90,000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States over the years, she still received a relatively light sentence in part because her role in smuggling even that amount of drugs made her a “minimal participant” in a much larger criminal enterprise, according to her plea deal.

“The defendant was not an organizer, leader, boss or other type of manager,” Anthony J. Nardozzi, a federal prosecutor, told the court. “Rather she was a cog in a very large wheel of a criminal organization.”

In the wake of Ms. Coronel’s arrest, there was widespread speculation that she — like so many of Mr. Guzmán’s former allies — had decided to cooperate with U.S. authorities against other members of the organization he once led, the Sinaloa drug cartel. But in court papers filed this month, prosecutors said she had helped the government only in the prosecution of her own case.

Ms. Coronel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, called the allegations that she had cooperated with the government “garbage,” adding that they had put his client’s life in danger. “I don’t know if she can ever go back to her home in Mexico,” Mr. Lichtman said.

The Sinaloa cartel remains one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal mafias, even in Mr. Guzmán’s absence. It is said to be run by an uneasy alliance of his sons, one of his brothers and his longtime partner, Ismael Zambada García, all of whom have been indicted in the United States.

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U.S. Removes Colombia’s FARC Rebel Group From Terrorist List

WASHINGTON — The State Department removed the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia from its list of foreign terrorist organizations on Tuesday, as many of the group’s former commanders have turned to conventional politics after a decades-long conflict.

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the group, known as FARC, had “formally dissolved and disarmed” and “no longer exists as a unified organization that engages in terrorism or terrorist activity or has the capability or intent to do so.”

The move, which drew criticism from several prominent Republicans, is a sign of the Biden administration’s support for a fragile peace deal that the Colombian government signed with the FARC in November 2016. The agreement officially ended a five-decade conflict in which the U.S. military backed the government against a left-wing fueled insurgency that was funded by the drug trade. The fighting left more than 220,000 people dead.

Colombia had urged Washington for years to remove the FARC from its official list of terrorist groups, and Mr. Blinken said in his statement that the shift would allow the United States to “better support implementation of the 2016 accord, including by working with demobilized combatants.” Many of the FARC’s former top military commanders are now prominent politicians.

Under the deal, more than 13,000 FARC rebels agreed to lay down their arms in return for more government investment in neglected rural areas. But implementation of the accord has been shaky. Government aid has been slow to materialize in remote areas, and pockets of armed rebels carry on their fight.

After a helicopter carrying Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, was attacked in July, the government arrested 10 former FARC rebels and charged them with attempted assassination and a car bombing at a military base.

Mr. Blinken said two rebel groups formed by former FARC commanders who refused to demobilize were designated terrorist organizations. Segunda Marquetalia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army, or FARC-EP, are responsible for armed attacks, assassinations and hostage-takings, he said.

The United States also designated several leaders of the two groups as terrorists.

Some Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s decision to remove the FARC’s terrorist group designation. After the planned action was first reported last week by The Wall Street Journal, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, called the move “an exercise in appeasement.”

FARC members “have not exercised remorse or acts of contrition for their ongoing narco-terrorism against innocent Colombians & Americans,” Mr. McCaul wrote on Twitter.

“President Biden’s decision to remove the FARC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations will embolden terrorist groups throughout Latin America, empower narco-traffickers and pave the way for Castro-chavismo in Colombia,” Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, said in a statement.

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Barbados Drops the Queen and Becomes a Republic

In the early hours of Tuesday, at a ceremony attended by hundreds of masked officials, a prince and at least one pop star, the Caribbean island of Barbados became a republic, cutting ties with Queen Elizabeth II and casting off the last major vestige of its colonial past.

The nation swore in its first president, Sandra Mason, a former governor general who had been appointed by the queen. A 21-gun salute rang out as the national anthem played. The red, yellow and navy blue royal flag was lowered — exactly 55 years after the country gained independence from Britain.

“Today, debate and discourse have become action,” Ms. Mason, 72, told the onlookers gathered in the capital, Bridgetown. “Today, we set our compass to a new direction.”

Ms. Mason received a majority vote in Parliament in October to take on the role. In a speech afterward, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said: “We believe that the time has come for us to claim our full destiny. It is a woman of the soil to whom this honor is being given.”

The island nation, a democracy of about 300,000 people, announced in September that it would remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state, the latest Caribbean island to do so. It joined Guyana, which gained independence in 1966 and became a republic in 1970; Trinidad and Tobago, which became independent in 1962 and a republic in 1976; and Dominica, which gained full independence as a republic in 1978.

Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are among the nations that still call the queen their head of state. Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries with roots in the British Empire.

On Tuesday, thousands celebrated across Barbados as nearly 400 years of British rule ended.

In the audience to witness the uncoupling in Bridgetown was a representative of Britain: Prince Charles, Elizabeth’s eldest son and heir. He received the Order of Freedom of Barbados.

In a speech, Charles delivered a message from his mother, conveying the “warmest good wishes.” He also congratulated Barbadians and said, “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

“Tonight you write the next chapter of your nation’s story,” he added. “You are the guardians of your heritage.”

Also among the crowd was the global pop star Rihanna. During the ceremony, the singer, who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Barbados, was declared a national hero.

She received the honor, Prime Minister Mottley said, for commanding “the imagination of the world” with her excellence, creativity, discipline and, “above all else, her extraordinary commitment to the land of her birth.”

“May you continue to shine like a diamond,” Ms. Mottley added.

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