Afro-Cuban Band Headlines LEAF Retreat - TribPapers

Afro-Cuban Band Headlines LEAF Retreat

Artist El Alimento. Photo submitted.

Black Mountain – LEAF’s spring festival is as always on Mother’s Day weekend, this time on May 10-12. Spring LEAF has a more restricted turnout than the main LEAF Global Arts Festival, for a much cozier feel, LEAF Executive Director Jennifer Pickering noted.

Cimafunk is the name of the frontman of a nine-man lineup from Havana that will play Afro-Cuban funk on the festival’s busy Saturday night.

His name is a spin-off of his being a “cimarrón” — a Cuban of African descent who resisted and escaped slavery. It also refers to his music, which he said “aims to subvert classical Cuban rhythms with innovative mixes of funk, afrobeat and hip hop.” His 2021 album El Alimento earned a Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album nomination at the 2023 Grammy Awards.

Children’s Hip Hop

LEAF Retreat also features two hip-hop performers nominated for Grammys for their songs geared for children. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (SA23A), based in Asheville, won a Best Children’s Album Grammy for Infinity Plus One. That 2017 CD had a theme of outer space, and sounded out electromagnetic emanations of Earth that the Voyager spacecraft recorded in 1977. SA23A was nominated two years earlier for its prior album, and has performed children’s music since 2008.

The frontman goes by the name Cactus. He describes his act’s style as clever, danceable hip-hop: “With funk and beats as real as bands that play at midnight, and with lyrics that aren’t afraid to employ a larger vocabulary than what is currently heard on mainstream radio for grownups, Skidoo fashions a world intended for the whole family.” These are some of the lyrical themes: “The universal constants that we all deal with, such as love, struggle, dreams, fear and learning to become ourselves, are the soul of these musical adventures that bounce, fly and slide smoothly through landscapes of wild imagination.”

Skidoo will perform Saturday afternoon on the main stage, with Haviken Hayes and with Leaf Schools & Streets youth in “Rhymes and Beats.” Cactus has often played at LEAF. He stated, “The LEAF (Global Arts) Festival saves my soul every time! It’s my favorite festival in the world… from here to Australia.”

New to LEAF is Pierce Freelon with “Afro Futurism” on Friday night, May 10. NBC’s Today show and NPR public radio have featured his music, which blends hip-hop and jazz. Freelon has been Grammy-nominated twice recently for his children’s music. Most recently, he was nominated for AnceStars in 2023. His first nomination was in 2021 for Black to the Future.

Black Culture

That CD title reflects the former Durham city councilman’s promotion of black culture, and LEAF’s year-long theme entitled World Changers.

LEAF Performing Arts Coordinator/Artistic Curator Otto Vazquez is known as a hip-hop artist named Aquaboogy. He said that “we celebrate the extraordinary global citizens who not only create art, but also champion causes that resonate with the heartbeat of humanity. These are the voices that echo in the halls of change, the hands that paint the canvas of a better tomorrow. Our chosen artists are not just masters of their craft. They are beacons of hope. Tirelessly advocating for a world where justice, peace, and creativity flourish.”