An Interview with the Panama City musician regarding growing up in dictator-ruled Panama, a revelatory ayahuasca trip and his upcoming surf inspired English album.
Camilo Navarro Quelquejeu, who artistically goes by the name Cienfue has been championing the music scene in Latin America for years. With a repertoire that spans over a catalog of 60 songs since 2006; the Latin tropical psychedelic artist known for mixing Latin Roots with modern Electronic Elements has been featured on MTV, BBC, Rolling Stone and headlined some of Latin Americas premier music festivals including Rock Al Parque (Colombia), Vive Latino (Mexico), Quito Fest (Ecuador) and Contrapedal (Uruguay). Adding to his notoriety, he has also shared the stage with legendary acts likes of Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Juanes, Café Tacvba, Aterciopelados, Zoé and Incubus to name a few. His next feat, has now steered the artist into releasing his first English language project.
The upcoming album, which he shared would be titled Sunset Sesh (Sesión de Atardecer), will be a compilation of songs that he has decided to release as individual singles every month throughout the year. It was recorded over a 5 day period two years ago in the legendary retro Strange Weather Studios in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with the tracks now being mixed and mastered in Mexico City.
With the first single, “Life in the Tropics” out; today marks the release of it’s remix, produced by notable Cuban American producer Ill Factor for a final product that Cienfue claims himself, he loves more than the original.
While acknowledging instances in which there can be a lackluster response to crossover attempts, whether due to disingenuous rhythms or lyrics; he expressed his own very careful and deliberate process with his transitional project. “I wanted to ensure that both the music and lyrics would remain true to my roots,” while not limiting his exploration of new frontiers. With some concerns brewed on how some of his established and hardcore fans may react, he claims that the overall support and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and admirable.
When asked about the motives behind a more non-traditional method of an album release; Cienfue cites the main driving reason to be his (and artists overall) love for the process of creating music. “Releasing each single on its own allows it to receive the amount of recognition, exposure and praise it deserves.” From prior experiences, he felt releasing an album all at once leaves room for listeners to not fully listen and appreciate every crevice, or allows it to get lost in the noise of todays age of streaming and continuous releases. He feels this can leave many crushing feelings marinating in an artist who works so hard to produce an album over a lengthy period of time.
And for an album that takes main inspirations from Cienfue’s personal life, there is no doubt why each song deserve complete enjoyment. From living through an era of dictatorship, his surf tribe culture and spiritual cleansing ayahuasca trip; the album is expanding the frontiers of his music into the English mainstream with the will to spread the “calorcito de panama to the rest of the world.” In a time with much negative news and information being spread to the masses; he is creating works of art that have the ability to move through time and export the tropical and good vibes he has to offer. “Audiences give you 3 minutes of their life to spend with you, and I want to use those minutes to somehow enrich their lives and make it better.”
A unique tangent; we discussed his upbringing in a highly intensive and politically charged stated. Through the early part of the 1980’s, the Panamanian experienced life through a US led invasion and subsequent dictatorship. He recalls limitations placed on their lives; including curfews and spending much time within the home. “You’d have to find stuff to do and I used to watch a lot of TV. I spent a lot of time watching MTV and that’s what really got me into music.” To distract himself from the outside world, Navarro began arranging digital music on a Macintosh Plus computer, experimenting recording with Cassette Tapes and learning Electric Guitar.
Aside from the politics; he also attributes Panama’s overall sanconcho (a Panamanian soup he uses to reference their version of a melting pot), had a large influence into his now experimental and genre fusing sound. He refers to the mainstream Panamanian music culture of his upbringing as musical schizophrenia. “You would go to a local Quinceanera and the DJ would play a salsa song by Willie Colon, then the next song is early reggaeton by El General followed by The Rolling Stones.” He even has an artist curated playlist on his Spotify called Quince Anos Nostalgia that encapsulates the eclectic sounds. What he took from it however; was the ability to extract the sounds, feelings and energy he connected with and learn how to fuse them into his own work and music.
This album, he further explains, is also highly inspired by a different place and experience outside of his native home; West Coast Surf Culture. Belonging to an international surfing tribe, he tends to escape to California a few times a month, as well as various other beaches across the globe frequently. Highly charged from the nature that surrounds him; he mentions the compilations title (Sunset Sesh) stems from the most inspirational and surreal moment and feeling of the day, watching sundown while on the water; which he wanted to translate to listeners when playing the album.
He extends this sentiment when discussing the influence of nature overall in his sound. His branded tropical psychedelic music, is produced through the nature he has experienced in his life from surf to jungles to volcanoes. In an overall life quest of conservacion de medio ambiente, a conservation of nature, he also touched upon how this all led him to his experience with an ayahuasca trip held in the Colombian mountains that created personal inspiration for his outlook on life and artistic inspiration for this particular album.
Informed by the Shaman leading the ceremony, he was told the experience is set to connect him with the spirit of the amazonian forest in alternate dimensions to share messages of re-connecting humanity to nature that is to be brought back and delivered to the masses. He discusses the revelation and its connection to his role as an artist; “Musicians are in some form the new type of shaman, they have to go into the alternate dimensions and bring back a form of information to share with the people. I love being able to access the spiritual dimensions through my experiences with psychedelics that I can bring back and translate into music for my audiences.”
Cienfue will be playing a few festivals in Latin America this upcoming year, including Macro Fest in Panama. While no current formal announcements of live shows stateside just yet, we can definitely expect some more announcements and music from the artist soon. For now; he will continue to focus on his monthly releases and expanding his fan base, all while continuing to make waves in the experimental rock scene.
Take a listen to the original track and first single of the compilation “Life in the Tropics” below and follow him on all socials to keep up with his monthly releases.