Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Cimafunk On Creating The New Sound Of Cuba & Redefining Latin Alternative

Photo: Raúl González


Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Cimafunk On Creating The New Sound Of Cuba & Redefining Latin Alternative

Cimafunk's music isn't just about having a good time; the Cuban artist wants to encourage listeners to enjoy themselves as people. His second album, 'El Alimento,' is up for a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album.

GRAMMYs/Jan 10, 2023 - 08:30 pm

Havana’s signature sounds are next to impossible to ignore; reggaetón, Santeria drums and timba music pump through the city’s major cultural spaces and punctuate its seams. Together, all of these sounds create a symphony in the streets of a global musical mecca.

Circa 2019, Cimfunk’s breakout hit "Me Voy" was at the center of this symphony — booming  from the windows of vintage cars and into the streets from balconies, and streaming from cell phones attempting to catch a shaky internet connection in a park. The song was seemingly everywhere, ​​commanding attention with its loud, look at me tone and funky rhythm.  

Fast forward to present and Cimafunk has exploded on a global scale. The 33-year-old first time GRAMMY nominee is now a trailblazing creator whose music unites Afro-Cuban rhythms and African American funk.  His second album, 2021's  El Alimento, is nominated for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs alongside Rosalía, Tinta y Tiempo, Jorge Drexler, Gaby Moreno and Fito Paez.

Sonically, El Alimento is a simultaneous pull back and forward in time. Cimafunk’s fresh take on funk mixed with classic cha cha, Afrobeats, rap, rock and more, all oscillate from marginal to central sounds throughout the album. In doing so, he not only criss-crosses varying genres, but creates his own way of being in his music.

Cimafunk captures Cuba’s playful cadence on "Te Quema La Bemba," where fast street slang laced with rap beats transitions into a grounding, elegant mashup with cha cha undertones. "Salvaje" — a linkup with Latin jazz master Chucho Valdes and Stax Records session player Lester Snell — follows this lead, as Cimafunk drops into slower ballads with deeper, denser vocals, adding a sense of gravity to the song and his style at large. "Rompelo," another notable track with Lupe Fiasco, stands out for its stellar rap groove.

Cimafunk collaborated with funk godfather George Clinton on El Alimento's "Funk Aspirin" — an explosive, explicitly funk tune that's also synchronistic with Cuba’s vibrant tropical tones. "Cimafunk is the one, the next one," Clinton tells "He takes it back while  keeping it in the now. It’s like what we do, always reinventing the funk to keep it fresh."

Cimafunk’s music is as much informed by Afrocuban rhythms and African American funk as it is Havana’s vibrant live music culture and strong communal ties. With his nine piece band who consist mostly of musicians from Cuba’s most reputable music schools   Cimafunk's live shows feel more like full body funk therapy than solely sonic journeys. 

In an interview in English with snippets of Spanish, Cimafunk outlined his roots and rise  to success as a funkadelic force to be reckoned with. Often responding to interview questions  through breaking out in melody and movement to express his thoughts and experiences, he  exhibits his signature high energy funk flavor not only in his music, but his entire way of being.

You gained ground as an artist playing live shows first in Havana and then in the U.S. and internationally. Is there anything about the live music scene in Havana that you think plays out in your own presentation?

Yes, of course. Everything about the live music scene in Havana inspired me. At one point, some friends and I united a band, and we were in Havana and traveling. We started to see the bands in the capital and I fell in love with that. 

I also understood how to develop the live show in Cuba because there you got a crowd that knows a lot of cultural music inside and out; they know exactly where and how you are playing. We listened to excellent musicians as kids, [and] we are born listening to music not only on the radio, but on the street, etc. So when you play [there], you really gotta do it right; you gotta understand what the people need and what they don’t. At the same time, the only real thing you're gonna give to the people is being yourself and enjoying yourself.

I learned from everyone there [in Havana], especially through the live shows. My main "school" was working in live performance there. At one point I realized the live show is my domain, that the live show was "the weapon." That realization was a moment of consciousness, about how I can develop myself. 

Did you grow up in a musical environment? What was your home environment like?

I always had a connection with music as a kid. I sang in a choir at a Baptist church, where my whole family was going. After high school, I was living at a school and singing at all the parties. 

I started singing reggaetón, [which was just starting to get off the ground then in Cuba] because it was "the scene" for the girls.

I also grew up with a lot of music in my home. Even as a kid living in the forest without internet or CDaccess, I was listening to Stevie Wonder and Madonna, because my uncle had a car and a cassette player in the car. My mom taught English so she loved this music too. 

We had a big family. We were always dancing in the house and every Sunday, we were dancing– salsa and other types. Everybody loved music and we all listened to music the whole day. In any house, at some point, many types of music would be playing — Mexican music, reggaetón, Lionel Richie, or Michael Jackson, that was my fave. Also, Los van van, and all traditional and popular bands from Cuba like Charanga Habanera. We had a lot of variety of music around because we were a lot of people. 

You refer to your band as "La Tribu," (the tribe). Can you tell me more about your relationship with them and why you call them a "tribe?"

We have nine people and everybody is a special character. The band members are all really good musicians. We are like family; we spend more time together than our own blood family. We’ve developed healthy relationships. We party all the time. We are always joking, just having fun and feeling good, and spreading this happiness. We have that special vibe. The audience feels that and the live show is really good for that reason. The groove tells you the truth!

You just finished your second tour showcasing your second album, El Alimento. What is different about this album compared to your first album, 2017's Terapia?

There are similarities in my philosophy, which is love your body and your way to be. Love yourself, enjoy yourself, and party with that — your flesh and your soul. I think the difference is the quality. I made a really good team with the producer in the second album, Jack Splash. But the two albums are both special; one is not better than the other.

El Alimento is nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album; how do you see yourself and your music reflected in this category?

When you make an album, you say "this is gonna be rock or salsa." But for me, it’s difficult because this album has everything inside. 

When you hear "Funk Aspirin" for instance, it’s like an acid, it's heavy, you can feel the rock and roll there. 

Have you always thought of your music defined as "alternative"?

I remember some friends asked about this a long time ago-in 2019 or '18. And I said, originally I didn’t want it to be "alternative," but at the end it is.

I’m not 100 percent into the concept of [being defined as] a musical style. Everybody got their own vibe and different way to talk about the groove and I’m doing it my way. My way is alternative too. I’m always trying to mix sound and the groove.

Are there any significant experiences that stick out to you that helped you get yourself off the ground as an artist in Cuba?

At first, I was studying medicine… I had always grown up with this mindset that I had to be a good professional, everyone in my family had that kind of mentality. 

But I had traveled to Havana and experienced the live music scene there. The environment there was super active — lots of music, a little bit of a hippie vibe, combined with, like, a rap groove. Everyone was super friendly.

I went back to my hometown [in Pinar Del Rio], and I  was sitting there listening to my professor in the hospital, and I was like my mind is not here in this place. 

So at some point, I moved to Havana to pursue music. I was alone for two years playing music, but also doing other jobs — painting cars, cleaning and doing whatever to get money. I was  living with friends and family to pay for basic stuff. But after two years I woke up and was like I’m tired of this, I gotta find a solution because I can’t keep waiting. That’s what I tell kids now — don’t wait until someone comes to you, or for some label. Don’t wait for anybody. Just do your thing. Nobody is going to come for you if you don’t know how to find your own way.

Were there any specific musicians in Havana that mentored or guided you during this time?

[When I was in Havana] I figured out where the house of  this big musician, Raul Paz, was, who is from my hometown. I was like if I’m gonna ask for help, I’m gonna ask for someone from my home town.

So I went up and said "I’m from your hometown," and he said, "I’m having lunch with the family, come back in 15 minutes." When I returned he was still eating with the family. But he said come to the studio in the back of his house. I played a few of my songs for him on the guitar. He said, "you got good songs bro. One of these songs I can put on an album." And I said "I’m not interested in that 100 percent; I’m most interested in work. I need money like now, ASAP.

So he said he needed someone for a big show at one of the biggest theaters in Cuba, the Karl Marx Theatre. He told me we have two weeks of rehearsal with some other musicians.The show was all Black people. Everyone was in suits, and dressed super elegant, but I had no clothes. I was wearing like broken jeans my sister had given me that were super tight. I had  big white glasses and white shoes. It all looked like Latin pimp clothes. [Laughs.]  

Anyway,  they put that show on live TV for the whole country, so in that moment everyone saw me. The public kept me in their mind because I was dressed differently with a funky vibe. After that opportunity, everything started to happen. [Raul] took me under his wing. Even now, I keep doing what I did with him — I try to find a direct contact. I’m like this is who I am, if you like it, lets connect.

How did funk music in Cuba influence you? What did it teach you on your path?

That you gotta ‘fight,’ and also how to be a master of improvisation…It’s like  salsa bands in the '90s — all these big people jamming, making improv — fighting

I learned that with [Havana funk band] Interactivo, how to develop the groove and to release myself to say whatever I was feeling in the moment. And also how everyone is doing their own part.

How did you come to merge funk and Afro-Cuban rhythms? What does that connection represent for you?

Black music. All this information our ancestors brought and expressed in different places. Black roots, for me it’s that. We came here as slaves — my ancestors, and they gave the continent music, love, vibe, energy.

And that drove the inspiration for your name too?

My grandparents suffered that more than me. They grew up with this kind of idea that  we gotta be Black educated people with money, a good life, good clothes, clean, smelling good, decent — proud.  I started to deal with this and myself in and through  music. I started to feel so much of this pain my grandparents felt, but also so much love for us, and for myself. Then I started to change.

For me the cimarrón was the equivalent of the new Afro-Cuban way to be and communicate about  music, culture, sports, etc. [Historically], the cimarrón was a proud Black person. He didn’t feel like he was a slave. Instead he said, I’m a king, So the cimarrónes got together and created a village. They sang and danced in different ways, talked in a different language. They were together building a new society.  

For me "Cimafunk"  is a new way of life where you are proud [that] you can be yourself. You’re  not going to question that you will be successful. So, ‘Cima’ is from this Cimarron heritage and "funk" is from the funky music I love.

 I’ve heard you claim your music is more about celebration and joy than politics. Yet because your music combines Afro-Cuban rhythms and African American funk, do you think your music indirectly connects the US and Cuba?

This connection is not indirect. This musical and cultural exchange between our two countries has always been there. 

I’m Cuban and I’m so happy to be an Afro-Latin person and artist. I’m really proud to have that in my existence. It’s a lot of power and rhythm and groove. But my music is not just talking about "enjoying your night." It’s talking about enjoying you as a person.

I’ve heard you reference Fela Kuti, quoting "music is the weapon." How does that philosophy resonate with you in regard to connecting the U.S. and Cuba?

Music is the weapon. But the weapon is not for hurting. The weapon is something to heal yourself. That’s what Fela was saying from my conception: Music is about love, enjoying yourself, pleasure and revolution. That experience with art is something you need to figure out for yourself; you got to deal with you first. That is music for me. Music saved me. It brought me out of this difficult place. But when music gave me the groove, everything changed.

What direction do you see your music moving in the future?

Everything is growing since I started, and that’s a good feeling. With the vibe we are working on now, everyone [on my team] is on fire. So the future is gonna be nice, with good people around, having fun.

I want to keep exploring different musical styles, especially in the groove. I’ll keep playing with the rhythms, knowledge and vibe, without killing the soul. 

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023: Cimafunk, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Danielle Ponder & More
Danielle Ponder

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage


10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023: Cimafunk, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Danielle Ponder & More

Ahead of the 2023 BottleRock festival in California’s Napa Valley, held May 26-28, preview some of the notable up-and-coming acts who will hit the festival’s four stages.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2023 - 01:19 pm

Roughly 120,000 people will head to California's wine country May 26-28 for the 10th BottleRock festival, which  serves up music, food and libations at the Napa Valley Expo. BottleRock leans in on the food and beverage experience: on social media they refer to themselves as "a food festival with music playing in the background." 

On the festival’s culinary stage, headline musical acts join celebrity chefs and personalities for cooking demonstrations: at past festivals, Martha Stewart has chopped vegetables alongside Seattle rapper Macklemore, and Snoop Dogg has rolled sushi with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. More than a dozen wineries participate, as well as breweries and distilleries. The festival also features a silent disco, spa, pop-up live music jam sessions and art installations.

But beverages, food, art, and massages are not the headline act: Spread across four music stages, more than 20 musical artists perform each day. Post Malone and Smashing Pumpkins headline on Friday, Lizzo and Duran Duran on Saturday, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lil Nas X headline Sunday. Well-known marquee acts will play early-evening sets: Billy Strings and Bastille on Friday, Leon Bridges and Japanese Breakfast on Saturday, Wu-Tang Clan and the National on Sunday.

A handful of festival acts will also feature at BottleRock Presents  "after show" performances at venues in Napa, San Francisco and around the Bay Area May 23-28. Some of these after-show performances are sold out, but tickets are still available for Cautious Clay, Lucius, the Wrecks and several other acts. At the time of writing, three-day festival tickets are sold out but individual day tickets are still available.

In addition to the many big-name acts on the bill, noteworthy artists further down the roster will be performing from about noon onward. Representing pop, punk, blues, hip-hop, indie rock and more, the following 10 rising artists stand out for their originality, style, and approach.

Oke Junior

Oakland, California-born, Napa-raised Matthew Osivwemu raps under the name Oke Junior. He made music throughout middle school and high school: his song "Elmhurst" is a reference to Elmhurst Middle School in Oakland. 

An older brother mentored Osivwemu , encouraging his early musical pursuits and making sure  he was a student of the rap game. "The first time I rapped for him, I thought I was raw. He broke it down straight up and said ‘Man, that ain’t it. If you’re gonna rap, you gotta make sure it has meaning…don’t be out here just saying anything," Osivwemu said during a "Sway in the Morning" interview last year. 

In 2017, Oakland hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B. spotted Osivwemu at open mic nights in Sacramento, and took the young rapper under his wing. In 2016, Oke Junior tweeted that he wished he could have performed at BottleRock, and then joined Too Short onstage in 2019. He’ll perform at 1 p.m. on the Truly Stage on Sunday.


Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, a.k.a. Cimafunk, is a Cuban singer who performs funky Afro-Cuban music with a nine-piece band with an energetic intensity that has drawn comparisons to James Brown. 

For his 2021 album El Alimento he collaborated with Lupe Fiasco, CeeLo Green, and funk legend George Clinton, an experience he said was like "talking to a friend." The album was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for  Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards.

Rodríguez grew up in a tight-knit community in Western Cuba, surrounded by music: Mexican music, Christian music, and salsa, mixed with African rhythms. "We had a big family. We were always dancing in the house and every Sunday, we were dancing– salsa and other types," Rodríguez told "Everybody loved music and we all listened to music the whole day. In any house, at some point, many types of music would be playing — Mexican music, reggaetón, Lionel Richie, or Michael Jackson, that was my fave."

Cimafunk performs at 4:15 p.m. Sunday on the Allianz stage.

Danielle Ponder

Ponder, a former public defender from Rochester, New York, is also a powerful R&B/soul singer who has performed on late-night talk shows and at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Ponder was serious about her legal work, but was also making music on the side for several years She made the jump full-time to music after she turned 40.  

Released in 2022, Ponder's debut album Some of Us are Brave is filled with upbeat, spiritual bangers and chilled-out confessionals. The music often pulls way back, allowing Ponder the quiet space to convey to listeners that she feels their pain and their joy, and she wants to uplift them. The album's title track is a timely anthem for social justice: "all we want is to be ourselves … we don’t want problems," she sings. 

"We did an album and everything through law school. I just always felt like I didn't want to be struggling. I had this fear of financial instability, and so I just was like, I can't do music full time. But eventually it just pulled me," she told NPR

Ponder performs at 1:45 p.m. Saturday on the Jam Cellars stage.

Joey Valance & Brae

This Pennsylvania hip-hop duo, with their cocky, high energy Beastie Boys vibes and pop culture references to topics like Star Wars and fresh produce bring a heavy dose of prankster, '90s hip-hop style — but from a humorous, adolescent Gen Z perspective. Scroll to the bottom of their Spotify page and you’ll see this: "Who tf reads Spotify bios." 

The rapper-producers  — real names Joey Bertolino and Braedan Lugue — are longtime fans of early rap innovators like Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim and the Beastie Boys, but also EDM. They met at Penn State University and both credit their fathers with being big musical inspirations. The duo make most of their music in Valance’s bedroom. "He comes over and we just mess around until something fun comes out of it what we f—ing love," Valence told Ones To Watch

After gaining traction on TikTok, the duo performed their song "Double Jump" on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" and won a $10,000 talent show grand prize. They now have more than 850,000 followers on TikTok. 

Joey Valance & Brae perform at 7:15 p.m. Sunday on the Truly Stage.

Maude Latour

The Sweden-born singer has an enviable breakout story In March 2020, during the early pandemic lockdown, Latour — who was a student at Columbia University — posted a video of herself singing "One More Weekend," an upbeat tune about college heartbreak, to TikTok, where it has since been viewed more than 455,000 times. A year later, Latour was applying to summer jobs when record labels approached her and she signed with Warner Records. Last summer, she performed at Lollapalooza on the same day as Metallica.

A child of journalists, Latour studied philosophy in college, and her songs explore a range of emotions tied to relationships, death, messy bedrooms, and existentialism. 

"I feel connected to this overpowering awareness of my mortality. It is what makes life beautiful. This is my ‘thank you’ to existence," she told Billboard.

Maude Latour performs at 2:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz Stage.

Thunderstorm Artis

Growing up in Oahu, Thunderstorm Kahekhili Artis played in a family band with his dad, Ron Artis, an artist and Motown session musician who, played with artists such as Michael Jackson, Van Halen and Stevie Wonder

After touring with his older brother Ron Artis II, Thunderstorm was invited to perform at the wedding of Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, and was a finalist in the 2020 Spring season of "The Voice," where he performed renditions of "Blackbird" by the Beatles and songs from artists like Louis Armstrong

Thunderstorm has gone on to perform his blendings of folk, rock, soul and country music alongside artists like Jack Johnson and Booker T. He’s been known to play renditions of songs from artists such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Elton John

Thunderstorm Artis performs at 12:15 p.m. Sunday on the Verizon stage.

Ayleen Valentine

The 21-year-old from Miami dropped out of Berklee College of Music in 2021 to pursue music full time. She combines guitar, piano, and saxophone with electronic beats to make moody dream pop. 

Valentine has said that she loves to watch videos of her favorite artists before she takes the stage, listing a who's who of famous rock stars that inspire her: "Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Mitski. I used to love Kanye — not so much anymore. James Blake. Axl Rose is very theatrical. Fiona Apple is cool and very scary."

Valentine released Tonight I Don't Exist, a seven-song EP of bedroom pop, last year, and more recently released a video for the song "Next Life" from that EP.

Ayleen Valentine performs at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the Jam Cellars Stage.  


The head-bobbing, dancing crowd and flashy, bright lights of a Meute show look almost exactly like any average club scene, but instead of a DJ and turntables and laptops, crowds see 11 people wearing marching band uniforms and holding brass instruments.

Like most brass bands, the 11-piece German brass collective Meute offers up lush harmonies and expressive horn solos backed by marching band percussion. But Meute is a "techno marching band," that aims to create a high-energy, hypnotic club vibe with marching band instruments. Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn loved the ecstasy and intensity of going to raves, but thought it would be more interesting and exciting if there was a live band onstage instead of a DJ.

"We do interpretations…It’s a nice part of art, and a nice part of the history of music… when you can give the composition something new, when you can see it from another point of view, it’s a beautiful thing," Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn told Variety.

The group toured 18 cities across North America last summer and performed at Goldenvoice’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. 

Meute performs at 8:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz stage. 

The Alive

The members of The Alive are teenagers from Southern California, but they make music that sounds like a collage of '90s and early 2000s alternative rock.

"We’d grow up going surfing and skating. In the car, our parents would start playing music," singer and guitarist Bastian Evans told an interviewer. "I didn’t pay attention the first four or five years I was alive – but after a while, I started really listening to what was playing, and got a connection to some of the bands, especially Queens of the Stone Age. My dad would play it all the time in the morning, especially on the way to school."

The Alive have performed at Lollapalooza Chile and Ohana Fest, and opened up the main stage at BottleRock in 2021 and played an after-party show with fellow Laguna Beach musician Taylor Hawkins and his former side band Chevy Metal.

The Alive was named one of Stab Magazine’s "30 Under 30 Culture Shifters of Tomorrow" and has performed benefit concerts for the Surfrider Foundation, Surfers Against Sewage in England, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and Save The Waves.

The Alive perform at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on the Jam Cellars Stage.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

When 24-year-old Christone "Kingfish" Ingram won the Best Contemporary Blues Album award at the 2022 GRAMMYs, he told the crowd, "For years I had to sit and watch the myth that young Black kids are not into the blues, and I just hope I can show the world something different."

His debut album, Kingfish, produced by Tom Hambridge, was released on Alligator Records in 2019, and earned him a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 62nd annual GRAMMY Awards.

Ingram grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, playing drums, bass, and guitar. He studied music at the Delta Blues Museum under Bill "Howl-N- Mad" Perry and Richard "Daddy Rich" Crisman, and was playing gigs around town by seventh grade. 

In 2014, he performed for Michelle Obama at the White House with the Delta Blues Museum band. Ingram joins a long legacy of artists to emerge from Clarksdale: John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters are just a few.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram performs at 5:45 p.m, Sunday on the Allianz Stage.

Get To Know 5 Asian Artists Taking Center Stage At 2023 Festivals

6 Things To Know About Bonnie Raitt: Her Famous Fans, Legendary Friends & Lack Of Retirement Plan
Bonnie Raitt at the GRAMMY Museum

Photo: Rebecca Sapp


6 Things To Know About Bonnie Raitt: Her Famous Fans, Legendary Friends & Lack Of Retirement Plan

During "A Conversation With Bonnie Raitt" at the GRAMMY Museum, 13-time GRAMMY winner detailed her career trajectory, history of big-name collaborations, and how her win for Song Of The Year at this year’s GRAMMY Awards was "a total surprise."

GRAMMYs/Mar 6, 2023 - 10:11 pm

For the uninitiated, Bonnie Raitt is just an "unknown blues singer" — albeit one who managed to nab the Song Of The Year award at the 2023 GRAMMYsplus two other trophies. But to the millions in the know, and the choice few in attendance for a chat with Raitt at the Grammy Museum on March 5, she is a living legend.

Over the course of her decades-long career, Raitt has earned 30 GRAMMY nominations, taking home 13 golden gramophones for tracks like "Nick Of Time," "Something To Talk About," and “SRV Shuffle,” as well as albums such as Luck Of The Draw and Longing In The Hearts. Last year, Raitt was awarded the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, and at this year’s ceremony, she snagged GRAMMYs for Best American Roots Song, Best Americana Performance and the coveted Song Of The Year.

Before she heads out on a tour of the western United States and Australia, Raitt sat down to chat with moderator David Wild for about two hours, musing not only about her "total surprise" about snagging the Song trophy, but also about her experience at the ceremony. It was an illuminating and downright charming experience — as well as an educational one. Here are six things we learned at "A Conversation With Bonnie Raitt." 

Taylor Swift Is A Fan —  And A Humble One At That

Raitt recounted being chatted up by Taylor Swift during the GRAMMYs, with Swift telling Raitt backstage that she felt okay losing Song Of The Year to her. Swift's "All Too Well (10 Minute Version)" was in competition, alongside works by Lizzo, Adele and Harry Styles.

Swift also introduced herself to Raitt, whom she’d never met, saying,"Hi, I’m Taylor." Raitt said she responded, "Ya think?" — which made the audience in the Clive Davis Theater crack up.

She’s A Master Collaborator, With More On The Way

"No one commands more respect" amongst their musical peers than Bonnie Raitt, said Wild, who's worked on the GRAMMY Awards as a writer since 2001. Whenever the show’s team has struggled to think of who could best pay tribute to someone like John Prine, Ray Charles, or Christine McVie, "the answer is always Bonnie Raitt."

That’s probably why, as Raitt noted, she’s recorded duets with more than 100 different musical acts — from Bryan Adams to B.B. King. Raitt added that she’d still love to work with Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, and H.E.R., and that fans can anticipate new collaborative work coming from work she’s done with Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow

Raitt added that she’s gotten really into Unknown Mortal Orchestra lately, who she heard about through Bruce Hornsby.

She’s Learned From And Befriended Musical Masters

Raitt was effusive about her love for King, among others, saying that one of the great joys of her career has been sitting at the feet of blues greats like Sippie Wallace and Son House. The singer/songwriter expressed her gratitude for being able to help get so many of these once-forgotten masters both the attention and the pay they deserved. She cited her work with the Rhythm And Blues Foundation as being of great importance to her personally, saying that it’s vital that the roots of blues and jazz are taught in schools today.

Wild also got Raitt to open up about her friendship with legendary gospel-soul singer Mavis Staples, who toured with Raitt just last year. Calling Staples, "all the preacher I’ll ever need," Raitt said she thinks she and Staples bonded over being the daughters of famous fathers. "It’s a great honor of my life being friends with her," Raitt said of her "mutual sister."

Later, Raitt also waxed rhapsodic about another famous daughter, Natalie Cole, who she said she’d been thinking about all day.

Raitt’s Got An Independent Spirit And An Independent Label

A good portion of Wild and Raitt’s chat was devoted to the star’s career trajectory. The two detailed how, as a 21-year-old college student, Raitt signed to Warner Bros. only after they promised her complete creative control of her own indie label, Redwing.

Raitt said it was only with the help of a"team of mighty women" that she was able to go independent. She cited lessons from friends like Prine, Staples, and Jackson Browne, from whom she learned going it alone could be done successfully. 

Bonnie Raitt Almost Missed Out On "I Can’t Make You Love Me"

Raitt also talked a bit about her previous GRAMMY triumphs, including her run of nominations and wins around 1989’s Nick Of Time. Her popular single, "I Can’t Make You Love Me," was originally written for Ricky Skaggs, who intended to make it a lively bluegrass record. 

Raitt added that she thinks the song "Nick Of Time" struck a chord because she opened up about what it means to be getting older.

She’s Not Planning On Retiring (Or Dying) Any Time Soon

After joking that COVID lockdown felt like "house arrest" and "hibernation," Raitt said that her recent tours have been a blessing. "It feels like I was under the earth without any sunshine," Raitt says, reassuring attendees that she’s "never retiring." She said that while she’s lost eight friends in the past three or four weeks, including the great David Lindley, the 73-year-old is optimistic that she can "be here and celebrate for another couple of decades."

Raitt capped off the event doing what she loves best, teaming with long-time bassist Hutch Hutchinson for an intimate four-song set that included "Angel From Montgomery," "Shadow Of Doubt," "Nick Of Time," and the GRAMMY-winning "Just Like That." Raitt ended the evening by thanking the Recording Academy for inviting her out, joking, "I can’t believe I get to do this for a living."

Bonnie Raitt Essentials: 11 Songs That Showcase The Breadth And Depth Of The 2023 GRAMMYs Song Of The Year Winner

Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year
Tobias Jesso Jr. at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year

"I felt the weight of what it meant," the man behind the curtain of massive songs by Adele, Harry Styles, Marcus Mumford and more says about his win in the brand-new GRAMMY category.

GRAMMYs/Mar 2, 2023 - 11:10 pm

Tobias Jesso Jr. wanted to know how to write a hit song, so he read How to Write a Hit Song. Not that he needed to figure out how to break into the mainstream: he had already written a tune with Sia and Adele that cracked the Billboard Hot 100. But in an effort to take his young career seriously — that of writing behind the curtain for the stars — he cracked open the book at a café.

Just then, a voice: "What the hell are you doing?" He glanced up. It was Sia.

"She was like, 'Why are you reading that?' and I was like, 'I honestly don't know,'" Jesso remembers with a laugh. "I think I just put the book away from that point on and was like,
OK, I don't need the books. And I just felt like there's been a different one of those lessons at every step of the way where I'm just like, Man, I think this is what I got to do, and then I just figure it out."

Since that exchange, Jesso has written with a litany of contemporary stars: John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Pink, Haim, Harry Styles — the list goes on. (As per the latter, he co-wrote "Boyfriends" on Harry's House, which was crowned Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs.) 

And at said ceremony, he received a historic honor — the first-ever golden gramophone for Songwriter Of The Year. As Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing, recently toldput it to "We're looking for which songwriters have demonstrated, first and foremost, that they're considered a songwriter first by the music community. We want to recognize the professional, hardworking songwriters who do this for a living."

Read More: Why The New Songwriter Of The Year GRAMMY Category Matters For The Music Industry And Creator Community

Clearly, Jesso fits the mold, and possesses technical chops worthy of How to Write a Hit Song. But his realization — that he can literally throw out the rulebook — speaks volumes as to his flexible, collaborator-first and fun-first process. 

"I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people, and the songs will come if we're all just being honest," he tells "If you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper." 

And while working his interpersonal and collaborative magic, he keeps his ears and imagination open — a momentary trifle can become the heart of a song. It happened with Cautious Clay's "Whoa," which came from messing with some, well, whoas. 

"It was a little silly at first," says Jesso,the songwriter whose first output was "inappropriate" high-school joke songs. "But now it wasn't silly anymore." sat down with Jesso about his creative beginnings, the experience of working alongside pop titans, and how his inaugural GRAMMY win for Songwriter Of The Year happened during the happiest, most creatively fruitful period of his burgeoning career.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did it feel to take home the golden gramophone — the first ever in this category?

It felt tremendous. It felt amazing. It's such an honor to have received it, and I felt the weight of what it meant. I get really stage frightened, and so I kept telling myself there's no way I was going to win, just so I wouldn't be nervous or anything like that. 

But weirdly, when I did win, I was very not nervous. I don't know how to put it, but it was the opposite of what I thought I would feel. I don't know if I've never been awarded something so prestigious. My elementary school did a piece on me after I won the GRAMMY, and it was sort of largely a "We didn't see any talent at all" kind of thing.

So, I'd say "tremendous" would be probably the one word I would feel most aptly describes it. I'm just really, really proud of the category and its creation, and super lucky to have been a part of it at all. Especially in the year that it comes out. I was baffled that I was nominated. 

I had already felt like that rush of whoa, this amazing thing happened when I was nominated. And then winning was the next level of completely beyond what I could have ever expected.

How does the win help chart the next stage of your career?

As a songwriter, your job is to serve the artist. Your job is to serve the artist — the person who the song's for. And I think because of that, most songwriters have a very serve mentality, which generally doesn't work out well on the business side of things for you. 

I think if you took all the producers in the world and took all the songwriters in the world and tried to look at which ones are more business savvy, I'd say nine times out of 10, it's probably the producers. 

I think a lot of people — artists or songwriters among them — have imposter syndrome, feeling like they don't really know whether they belong there or they're just lucky or they have what it takes for the next one, even. If they know they had a good run or whatever, they're always going back to the well and praying that there's something in there. 

And I think this GRAMMY is almost like having a symbol of a really good run — a really good, fertile time of creativity or something. TI think the way I see it is sort of a symbol of this period of time where I had a lot of ideas, and worked really hard, and managed to somehow win this thing, which is, for me, is huge. It means a lot. 

For the songwriting community to have the award to look forward to, to have this symbol of Hey, you can be creative as a songwriter and just be a songwriter who doesn't sing and doesn't produce, and [the fact] you can get this prestigious symbol of your gifts that the world will now recognize — I think that's a wonderful thing for songwriters to have.

Take me back to the beginning of your career writing songs, either for yourself or others. The first time you really embraced this magical act of creation.

I was such a lazy songwriter for so many years because I always loved writing songs, writing songs with my friends in high school and stuff like that. But I never really wanted to play an instrument, and I never really wanted to sing them myself. 

I think probably back in high school, in 1998 or '99, it was because they were joke songs. So I probably didn't want to sing them because they were inappropriate or something. I always wanted to. The beginning for me was definitely a sort of moment of hearing Tracy Chapman when I was like, Oh, this is what I'm going to do. Not be Tracy Chapman, but write songs.

From there I was really lazy and I just tried to do as little as possible, but I had this sort of confidence that I was somehow good at it. So, I would sometimes have my friends who played guitar or my friends who played piano, or whoever was around, do the music part for me, and I could just kind of pipe in and direct where I felt like my skillset was. 

I started writing on piano for the first time when I was 27. That was a big moment for me where I was. I feel like I finally figured it out. It took me a long time: I still don't know how to play the piano, but I know I'm going to figure this out now.

I made a lot of mistakes along the way with bands and with albums or whatever. Things that just didn't exactly go the way [I planned them]; my gut was eventually telling me it just wasn't right. And then, when I started playing piano, it just finally all felt right, and I didn't think too much about it. I just sort of started doing it. 

During that time, I unfortunately had to sing to get my album out, which was sort of a means to an end. But as soon as I was able to, I ducked away from that and started writing. Then I just had a new job. I was like I got promoted or something. 

As you honed your ability and developed your craft, how did you follow that chain of connections to be able to write for who you've written for?

It's funny because Adele was the first person I worked with — [but] not in a professional way where managers and stuff like that are involved, and it's not just a friend of mine from high school or something. She was sort of my blueprint for how those things went.

I couldn't have gotten any luckier than with Adele, because her blueprint for how to do a writing session is the most pure in the game. There's nothing to hide behind. There's no producer in the room. She came to my friend's grandparents' where there are no mics; there's no studio equipment at all. There's a piano. And she just goes, "Great, let's write a song."

I don't know that that even exists much anymore. There's not even a microphone to capture what's going on, let alone one of the biggest players in the entire world doing it — just showing up, being like, "Let's write a song." And there's nothing to record her. I thought that was really cool. I'm like, "That's how I write songs. I just sit in front of a piano and just do what I think I like." And she was like, "And me too."

So, that's how we got along real great off the bat. And then from there, I would say it was just the most epic amount of failures and trial and error to figure out what the hell I was doing in every different session. I mean, I was treading water at times, and I felt like I was smoking crack sometimes, because I was so creative in a certain scenario I didn't expect to be creative in or something like that.

I think it's just this kind of learning process. There are a lot of people who are typically geared towards one style of writing. You're the country guy or you're the pop guy, or you're the ballad guy. And I could see that I was getting typecast. I was starting to get typecast, especially early on in my career because ballads, that's just the tempo that's naturally within me. It's sort of my soul tempo to just slow things down. I can write much easier in that tempo. I'll always sort of naturally progress there.

But I wanted to push the limits of that, and I wanted to figure out a way to get out of that typecast. And so I tried as quickly as I could to pick people who would be like, "Please don't play a ballad."

And when I started doing that, it was, again, trial and error. I think Niall [Horan of One Direction] was the first person I worked with who was in the pop world, and he was very much an acoustic singer. So I think that I was going into that session thinking I wanted to do upbeat pop. So I don't know — you get in the door and then you just try to acclimate yourself to the environment and help out as much as you can.

I think that's the best way to put it, because you never know what you're going to be doing. You never know what the artist is going to want from you or not want from you. A lot of the job is just figuring all that stuff out and then trying to just have fun while you're doing it. I think it's just that good energy, good attitude, and good people tend to sort of gravitate together.

How would you characterize the state of your artistic journey at this point?

I would say it feels the richest, in the sense that I'm the happiest I've been working.

I've found my rhythm — my perfect work-life balance kind of thing — so I can spend time with my son. And I think because of all of the time I've spent writing songs and how many songs come out, which is not a lot compared to how much you spend writing, you kind of learn that the relationships you make in the room are really the things that you really take out of it. It can be a lot more than, "I'm just a songwriter here to serve this artist" or whatever.

Lately, probably because of all the time I've spent doing it, I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people. And the songs will come if we're all just being honest. We all know why we're here. We don't need that pressure in the room, and we don't need the A&R sitting in the room. We can get a song, but let's just be honest and really enjoy each other's company for a while.

And I think once that starts happening, it's way, way more fruitful in the long run. Because if you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper.

As a songwriter, your job is to point out metaphors or parallels — and things that could spark some interest in an artist's mind. And the better you get to know somebody, the more amazing the writing process can be.

That's been happening a lot in my recent sessions with Dua [Lipa] and Harry, another just amazing person. He is a great guy, but we haven't done that much writing together, but we know each other mostly through Kid Harpoon — Tom [Hull], who's the best.

I'm getting to know the people, and that's the most important part for me — I'm working with the people I want to work with. That's my journey now. I'll always work with new people, but I don't need to work with people I don't really vibe with or listen to. That's not really my interest anymore, especially if I'm in it for the right reasons. I'd say it's just more intentional, and I'm being more honest.

When you walk into a room to write with somebody, what are the first steps, or operating principles?

My operating principle is: Do I want to get to know this person, and do they want to get to know me at all, or do they just want to write a song and not want to open up?

If it's somebody who seems very open to talk, that's usually a good sign. And if not, then you just do what they want. You start writing a song and that's fine too. Sometimes there's great, catchy stuff. It's not always the deepest stuff.

Maybe they're the ones writing the lyrics, so maybe it is. But my operating principle is kind of, if I'm having a good time and everyone's having a good time, we're doing something good. We're not writing a bad song. We're just not. If we were writing a bad song in this room of professionals, we wouldn't be having a good time.

And when you're having a good time, good ideas do come. Even if they are silly at first and they're more openly accepted, and everything in the room is flowing better when those channels of enjoyment are sort of open, and everyone's laughing and having fun and dancing and being silly, that's how you get creative.

I don't know of many songwriters who are just dead serious. I've maybe met a couple. So I think my operating principle is to have a good time. That's going to be the funnest day, no matter what. It's probably going to be a better song for it if you're having fun and you like the people and they like you, and everything's going well.

Why is it crucial that the Recording Academy honor not only public-facing creators, but those behind the curtain?

I won't speak for myself as much as just the amazing people who I've worked with. You can't understand what kind of work has to go into a song. It's so funny, because it's a three-minute thing that sounds like most people can do it in an hour or something, but some of these things take months of work to get right.

I think it's really important to acknowledge everyone involved in each of the processes, because to give credit to just producers and artists, and then it's like, "Yeah, but the storytellers aren't even in the room," is like the congratulating a director and an actor, and then being like, the writer is s—. It's like, what? The movie wouldn't exist without them!

That just wouldn't happen. So, it feels like the right thing. I'm a bit overwhelmed and still a bit in disbelief, but it's snowing in LA, so miracles do happen.

What would you tell a young songwriter who wants to roll up their sleeves and do this?

I would say just be a good person and keep learning. Everyone's not perfect at the start. But if I had to give one piece of advice that was super, super important to me, is the good guys are winning in the end sometimes.

Like I said, the friendships and the artists, you don't want to come in being a d—. And I don't mean that strictly for men. I just mean whoever's coming in, you want to be a nice person. I think there's a lot of good people, and there's a lot of bad people too. You find your crew — energy finds energy.

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Bobby McFerrin Honored With Recording Academy Special Merit Award
Bobby McFerrin

Photo courtesy of the artist


Bobby McFerrin Honored With Recording Academy Special Merit Award

After racking up 10 GRAMMY Awards and worldwide acclaim, McFerrin said this when the National Endowment for the Arts inducted him into its 2020 Jazz Masters class: “My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy.”

GRAMMYs/Feb 27, 2023 - 07:08 pm

Whenever Bobby McFerrin sings, freedom reigns. It twists and shouts; caresses and soothes; howls and coruscates.

After racking up 10 GRAMMY Awards and worldwide acclaim, McFerrin said this when the National Endowment for the Arts inducted him into its 2020 Jazz Masters class: “My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy.”

The son of two incredible singers, Sara Cooper (a former vocal professor at Fullerton College) and Robert McFerrin (an operatic baritone who was the first Black American man to sing at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera), McFerrin seemed destined to become a star. He sang in church choirs while growing up in Los Angeles. He studied music at California State University at Sacramento and Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. Afterward, he played piano and organ with the Ice Follies and in pop bands. And in 1980, he toured with the iconic jazz singer, Jon Hendricks.

McFerrin was 31 years old when he released his debut LP in 1982. But his artistry sounded fresh and fully developed. He contorted his four-octave voice in an array of colors, textures and improvisational shapes, liberating the role of a jazz singer.

McFerrin’s reputation as an ingenious and fearless virtuoso grew. His 1984 sophomore LP, The Voice, marked the first time a jazz singer recorded an entire album without any accompaniment or overdubbing. In addition to showcasing marvelous interpretations of songs by James Brown and Billy Strayhorn, it also revealed McFerrin to be an engaging composer through such infectious songs as “The Jump,” and “I’m My Own Walkman.”

A year later, his guest appearance on “Another Night In Tunisia” from the Manhattan Transfer’s LP, Vocalese, earned McFerrin his first two GRAMMY Awards. The following year, he won a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male for his stunning rendition of “Round Midnight,” featuring pianist Herbie Hancock from the movie soundtrack, Round Midnight. His collaboration with Hancock also garnered McFerrin another GRAMMY win in 1987 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male for “What Is This Thing Called Love?” from the LP, The Other Side Of Round Midnight.

For all of McFerrin’s exhilarating virtuosity, he imbues it with vast emotional range, especially humor. He can infuse his improvisations with the madcap kinetic energy of a Tom and Jerry cartoon chase scene, then pull the amorous heartstrings with a tender ballad.

Of course, the lyrics that McFerrin became most famous for are from his sanguine 1988 hit, “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” which catapulted him into superstardom. The song won three

GRAMMY Awards — Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.

That enormous success didn’t impede McFerrin’s flair for adventure. He brought a quixotic spark to his records and projects that broke the conventions of jazz singing. He collaborated with classical music heavyweights such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist W.A. Mathieu and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; he has created elaborate vocal choirs such as 2010’s VOCAbuLarieS with composer Roger Treece; and delved deep into the Negro spiritual canon on his enthralling 2013 album, spirityoual.

Nearly 40 years after winning his first GRAMMY, McFerrin’s continued boundless musicality is a true embodiment of artistic freedom.

Here's What Happened At The Recording Academy's 2023 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring Heart, Nirvana, Nile Rodgers, The Supremes & More