Cime's Reconciliations in"The Independence of Central American Remains an Unfinished Experiment"
Cime is the project of Honduran-American freak folk singer Monty. Their newest record, The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment is a politically-charged narrative of Central American independence, weaving together collective and personal history with a litany of musical motifs and techniques to create a record which transcends temporal and geographical borders.
In the vein of Víctor Jara, Cime takes sonic and thematic inspiration from wherever they’re able to draw parallels. They draw from Honduran folk music, but also rock n’ roll, salsa, rap, opera, modern indie, gospel, 70s Central American activism, and the long-lasting tradition of Latin spoken word. Seeing how modern Central American and Latinx identity is an amalgamation of various disparate cultures, Cime’s music revels in the syncretic nature of modern Central American Identity, especially since Cime themself is at the intersection of Latinx, nonbinary, and Christian. To illustrate this sense of dissonance, various conflicting voices and characters run throughout. You hear them all in “Mother (Interlude,)” clamoring about like they’re at a family dinner as Cime sings soulfully in the background, or in “God, the FSLN, and the Despots” where the family dinner becomes an evangelical choir.
Through their work, Cime explores parallels that exist all throughout history; evidenced by the recurring Garifuna drum which persists throughout the record as a rhythmic heart, mostly poignantly during the shift between “God, the FSLN, and the Despots” and “200 Years…” “It is never too late to change'' narrates Cime, as the Garifuna carries us into a song about exhaustion, whether it be from everyday circumstance or the lasting effects of colonialism.
Cime suitably chose the motif of a house to store the multimedia accompaniment to their album on cime.casa, where each room unveils a new aspect to the albums cultural, historical, and personal influences. In the literature of Morrisson and Marquez, dead characters, objects, and sensations occupy a constant presence due to the home. A similar interpretation can be applied to Cime’s own work, where collective history creeps in the hallways of your own home, the residue of the past hanging thickly in the air like dust. Our histories are inextricable from our own identities, and they manifest in our family dynamics and personal expression. We can only understand ourselves through reconciling our past. Cime, through their music, creates a rousing personal, historical, and political ode to the music of the past, and utilizes it as a tool to bring forth the future. As they sing in “Compay (Independencia): “Bolivar waits for us / Nothing is ever truly over / And you can change it / If we start walking, Compay / We can accomplish it.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity
LY: Before Cime, you were in a band called Costco Boyfriend. Can you tell me more about the shift from post-punk to folk?
CIME: I think a lot of the core elements to punk and post-punk are still present in my music. But this solo project is something I’ve conceptualized in my head for years, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Being in a band taught me the process of recording, songwriting, and performance, something which I apply to my own music now but also stretch further than before. Especially when it comes to the vocals, because post-punk has a vocal style that is grounded in performativityー like it can range from spoken word to vivacious operatics. My songwriting has always been based in a lot of rock and folk, so Cime feels like a natural evolution from Costco Boyfriend and my earlier projects.
LY: I’m curious about the production on this album by DJ Rozwell. Can you tell me more about your collaboration with online artists?
CIME: DJ Rozwell is someone whose work I’ve always admired, especially regarding his interpretations of kitsch in the twenty-first century. You know, this kind of neo-psychedelic, hypnagogic pop, YouTube-core. His own projects like Erratas and KFC Murder Chicks really inspire me, like how he makes projects that expand past just music and become concepts in themselves. It was really great being able to connect with people online like DJ Rozwell and my friend Frankー who is listed as “El Café Atomicó” ー he’s from Uruguay and has a fascinating psychedelic Hip Hop style fusion. Still, I think a lot of artists nowadays can get too into the Internet. You need to find a balance between online and real life communities. The Internet is a tool… it’s a supplement. I think having that is really great for me, especially going from making music as a three-piece band to being a solo artist, and getting to collaborate with people who constantly inspire and guide you.
LY: How do you navigate having both a digital and real life self?
CIME: I try to make it very apparent that people are listening to me, and that they are still able to be with me despite me not being physically present. That is why I try to engage with people online, and why I’ve even made a website that supplements the songs with historical information and visual media. Still, I want it to be apparent that there is always going to be a divide between my online and real life presentation, and that people online are interacting with something that I have curated for their own viewing, not who I actually am.
LY: Tell me about your supplemental website, cime.casa.
CIME: I was really inspired by DJ Rozwell and Web1.0, like those websites from the early 2000s with really awful designs. Granted, it was also an aesthetic choice I made because I only just learned how to code. It’s something I made in advance of the release of the new album, but also a repository of information that I hope to build on over time. One of the reasons I made the website was because I couldn’t afford to have booklets on the CD, and I wanted people who bought the CDs to have that same experience of learning more about the album and presenting it in an engaging digital format.
LY: What about the choice to make the websites room in the home?
CIME: I just thought that “.casa” was adorable. I love how the website feels like a home, between all the rooms with different purposes and even the artwork. All the drawings you see on the website are done by my friend Ven, who also did the cover artwork for this album. Ven is another one of those people I met online who has proved vital to the making of this album, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to make an eighth as good of a cover or a website without them.
LY: What was your upbringing like?
CIME: I was raised by my mother, who is from Honduras. I was born in Texas, then I moved cities in Kindergarten, I moved again in the middle fifth grade to Costa Rica, then have lived in San Diego since seventh grade onward, but even then that might be subject to change due to the housing crisis. Besides Costa Rica, I’ve grown up in a majority white world and I’ve never really been sure where I fit into that world, for the most part I’ve had to figure it out on my own. What facilitated a lot of the discovery of my identity was the pandemic, where I was able to sit down and reflect and research independently. Not to say I didn’t feel Latino before the pandemic, but it definitely shifted. Did you have a similar experience yourself?
LY: Yeah, growing up between a white world and an Asian world has caused an identity crisis. In Ireland there isn’t a large Vietnamese community, so my experience as a person of color is usually reduced to a single narrative about Asian people.
CIME: In California there aren’t a lot of Hondurans, so my culture is constantly compared to Mexico. While there might be some similarities with Mexico, it often feels like the entirety of Central America is reduced to a pastiche of Mexican culture. Oftentimes, immigrant identity is boiled down to what is most palatable or marketable for Americans. In making this album, I wanted to reaffirm my sense of identityー both celebrating Honduran culture but also highlighting my personal experience as a Honduran immigrant and the nuances of every single experience.
LY: I feel that there’s a struggle between sticking to a label or identity which people are familiar with or finding your own authentic identityー but oftentimes you don’t know what actually is authentic because you’re isolated from your own culture.
CIME: Yeah, it means having to discover for yourself what it means to be Vietnamese or Honduran on your own terms. Having to deconstruct what you’ve grown up saying and what other people have said about what it means to be Asian or Latino. I remember thinking that I wish I was Mexican, because I felt a disconnect from other Latinos. Growing up and not being able to see myself was very alienating. So I feel like a lot of my music now is a reclamation of that.
LY: While making music, how did you find your sense of identity?
CIME: A lot of the songs in The Independence… touch on formative experiences. Like, “By the Bunches” is about growing up in a tenuously middle class identity, where your needs are met but you’re still constantly struggling for stability. A lot of the album tries to focus on reconciling the past, the present, and the futureー not just personally but also as a region. What I try to do with that is find parallelsー from my past and present. Even “By The Bunches” circles back to my present self where I want to be a musician, but I don’t know how I can afford college and rentー so it’s this artistic insecurity. That’s how I would say I got to know myself, through building parallels between who I am and who I’ve always been, and to try and reconcile that for the future.
LY: In making the album, you drew heavily from 70s Central American folk and jazzー how did that shape your creative process?
CIME: I’ve said this before, but I’m a writer first and a musician second. I did a lot of research into the history of Latin America, particularly in the 70s and 80s, and the sociopolitical movements that formed during that era. Consequently I came across a lot of the music, so I was drawing a lot from people from that era in regards to how they wrote and their styles of music. My influences are, to name a few, Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, who were like the bards of the Sandinista movement… There's Víctor Jara, Chico Buarque from Brazil, and, most importantly, Rubén Blades, who is a Panamanian Salsa musician.
There’s this series of albums by Blades I especially love from the 70s to 1980, namely Siembra and Maestra Vida. Siembra is one of the best selling Salsa albums of all time, and it’s this very socially conscious and politically-focused album on Pan American unity. The lead single off of it is “Plastico” and it talks about the “plastic youth” across the region at the time, the Gen X-ers that were very obsessed with American culture and consumerism. They’d spend all of their time in the clubs dancing to salsa, but didn’t engage with the political lyrics. They acted only as consumers. Like there’s one lyric that goes, “this plastic girl sweats Chanel No. 3.” Siembra is something you’re meant to listen to and dance to, but unavoidably be confronted by the anti-consumerist message. Siembra means “to sew” in Spanish, as in you sow what you reap. You need to sow values into the current generation, in order to witness their impact on the next.
The follow-up album Maestra Vida takes the same approach but is even more grandiose. It’s twice as long, has this huge operatic narration, and all these spoken word interludes, so Maestra Vida is where I took a lot of inspiration from, except he does it a lot more brilliantly. There’s so many layers of complexity as every song incorporates a different South American music style, everything from son cubano to classic Salsa. Maestra Vida is so brilliant for how wide its scope is, like you never knew what was going to happen next. It’s an album that flows seamlessly and catches you out of somewhere, like a rollercoaster. It feels like you get something valuable out of listening to it. That’s the approach I wanted to go for with my album.
LY: What are your own thoughts on Pan Americanism?
CIME: Pan Americanism, as an ideology, is something that I’ve grown more critical of over time, since ethnic conflict is unavoidable. I think a lot of Pan Americanism is rooted in this false idea of Latin identity, kind of similar to what happens with Latino identity in the US where a lot tends to be boiled down to the most basic aspects of Latin America, that doesn’t really illustrate the struggles of the Latin working class. That being said, I do think some level of regional unification is possible in Latin America and that political unity can be formed. But, a big Latin American continent under one banner is not a possibility, as there would be so many voices which would have to be trampled in order for it to work.
I think that the best we can do about deconstruction and unity of people is through mutual respect, with something like music. Latin America is a region of emotion; if you write a song or paint a painting you are able to impact a lot more people than if you are to write a document. Music has always been at the crux of social movements all throughout history. If you look at the development of corridos in the early 1900s with the Mexican Revolution, that was the big way of promoting the ideals of it. In the twenty-first century, Hip Hop takes a lot of that responsibility. I would look at somebody like Bad Bunny, where he’s very socially focused but people discredit that because of the genre.
LY: Totally, people discredit so much political art by people of color and non-Western countries because they don’t take it seriously.
CIME: For real. I think a lot of it is because of the rhythm. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, how white people will say that all reggaeton or RnB sounds the same but then you listen to classical music or rock and it’s just the same chord progressions. All music genres have that repetitive quality at times, and to dismiss genres made by people of color because they sound the same to their ears is really just an academic way to be racist.
LY: Totally, and even thematically as well there’s this tendency to dismiss artists who sing about poverty unless it’s done in a conscious way. Still, I think that Rxk Nephew yelling “Who the fuck is Christopher Columbus?” has done more for American culture than a lot of history textbooks.
CIME: With Rxk Nephew, I feel like it was very apparent he knew a lot more than he led onn, using his platform to speak to people who, say, prefer DAMN over To Pimp a Butterfly because the latter is too complex; that’s a group of people whose voices should be heard too. I think that it’s rooted in this idea that if you’re not being academic, you’re not saying anything. Again, that idea in itself is rooted in classism and racism.
LY: Did you have someone in mind when you were writing The Independence…?
CIME: If I had an audience in mind, I’d idealistically want it to be the people of Central America because a lot of it focuses on how to reconcile our past with our present and our material conditions to create a better future. As well as addressing a lot of social issues in Central America regarding queer identity and how that relates to religion… There’s a lot of Jesus shit in there, to be frank with you.
LY: How did your Christianity affect your own gender experience?
CIME: Religion in Latin America has a very different societal function than in the USA, but there’s much more of an emphasis on liberation via theology. I was really starting to get into Latin culture as something that’s past a monolith. Learning about the Sandinistas, people that were Catholic and communists really inspired me a lot. Before then I just thought I must be an effeminate cisgender male, but seeing such prominent leftist singers, writers, and authors talk about God and LGBT+ rights was really an inspiration to me.
I learned a lot about the pre-Canonization origins of Christianity as well, where it came about minorities in a Roman empire and they had abolished a lot of gender roles and class divideー there was this established unity. There’s a lot of writings by monks from as far back as the 1200s where they talk about people in the church who transition or don’t identify with their gender, and they correlate it back to the body of Christ. Almost that Jesus is androgynous; though Jesus is depicted as a male, but biology they come from immaculate conception. it was really beautiful
While I don’t necessarily think that people need to be a believer to listen to my music, and understand how Christianity has been used to spread hate to a lot of queer youth. A lot of the process of colonization and Christian missionary work is a white supremacist practice. Still, learning this was liberating. It’s so intimateー that connection between being Latinx, and Christian, and Queer.
LY: Can you tell me more about your experience at the intersection of being queer and Latinx?
CIME: Coming from someone who presents more femininely, I feel like a lot of rhetoric about masculinityー even in the queer communityー originates in whiteness. A lot of trans femmes feel a need to reject masculinity completely because their perception of masculinity as destructive and violent comes from those white perceptions. I never grew up with a male figure, and was in a culture where being masculine means being a protector as opposed to being competitive. So, I don’t feel a compulsion to outright reject masculinity, but I don’t completely feel like a man… It’s hard to explain to someone who’s cisgender.
LY: I always wonder how much of Vietnamese society’s conventional notions of sexuality and gender are influenced by colonialism. Even reading Vietnamese mythology, I feel like older interpretations of gender were completely different.
CIME: I see that a lot with Mayan mythology, where gender and identity seems a lot more fluid. It’s interesting in Vietnam too that a lot of older women present quite masculinely. Like in some ways those approaches to gender live on. In a way it’s still transgressive.
LY: I think the reason it’s like that in Vietnam is because it’s more of a matriarchy than most other cultures, but that’s the result of a lot of men dying or leaving home during colonial occupation. The women had to take up the role of the man so they almost act and look the part.
CIME: Yeah, in Latin America there’s this conception of like men being bumbling alcoholics and women have to set them straight. That subversion of roles can be a result of necessity. But it’s so interesting to see how a mythology or legend revolves around it, even in early modern and contemporary Latin literature where it’s a constant trope. There’s like this recurrent myth of women as sensible types. Art and social conditions are intrinsically connected.
LY: Tell me more about the role of the narrator in this album.
CIME: I was writing The Independence… as a history book. Obviously Ruben Blades inspired me, but there’s also an album Santa María de Iquique by the Chilean folk group Quilapayún, an album which interchanges instrumentals and spoken words. The album is about a Chilean miner’s protest in the 20s, so it’s reciting what happened in almost an operatic form. In Independence… I’m just continuing the narrative of history.
The character Guillermo refers to Guillermo Anderson, one of the most famous Honduran musicians, who is also one of my major influences. He’s not as outrightly political, but all of his songs are rooted in the material and social conditions of Honduras. He sings poignantly about wildlife, but then will have a song where he describes a woman in an abusive relationship, who dreams about flying through the window and landing in a maise field. Maise is a symbol of freedom and independence for Central America, being a pre colonial crop. There’s another song called “Pepé Goles”, it’s about a guy who was almost a pro soccer player but he broke his ankle, and now he just sits in a bar next to a photo of Pelé and tells people what could’ve been. Guillermo Anderson describes things that are real, and experiences that we are familiar with. His style and writing is a major inspiration to me, and I feel a really close connection to him because my mom was a student of his wife. In creating this narrative of Honduras and Central America I just had to bring him up, so Guillermo is a dedication to him.
LY: Would you consider working with folk musicians from other regions?
CIME: Totally. Going back to Victor Jara, one of his most famous songs is “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” which means the right to live in peace. The song was controversial when it first came out, because he completely left his folk roots and went for a rock song. The song is about expressing political unity with Vietnam during the Vietnam war. But the song isn’t about the war, it’s about the wider struggle for independence. In that, he draws the connection between Vietnam and Latin America. He has a lyric that goes, “Uncle Ho” ー that’s what Vietnamese people call Ho Chi Minh if I’m not mistaken?
CIME: “Uncle Ho, our song is a fire of pure love. It's a dove in a dovecote, an olive in an olive garden. It’s a universal song, a chain that will overcome the right to live in peaceー el derecho de vivir en paz.” So lyrically while he might express solidarity, he also does so musically by using rock and folk. In Latin America at the time, both folk music and rock music were being used as vehicles of protest separately but not together. So by bringing together the two genres, he brilliantly unifies these movements.
So yeah, I’d love to work with musicians from Ireland, Asia, the UK, or wherever really. Solidarity of any kind is beautiful. Latin America itself is a syncretic culture of Africa, Europe, and Indigenous Americans, so continuing that conversation with history is a brilliant idea.
LY: What do you set out to achieve with this album?
CIME: I want to broaden people’s perceptions of what Latin music is and can be. I want to make people aware that this is not originalー like I’ve had people tell me it sounds like nothing they’ve ever heard before, but my music is all rooted in something. I want to get people in tune with that in a way that isn’t just fetishistic or exotification. Most importantly, I hope that this album has a presence in Central America, and can feel like their concerns and their experiences are seen.
Stream Cime’s music on Spotify and Bandcamp. Be sure to check out their website, cime.casa. Otherwise, they can be found on Instagram and Twitter.
Images provided by Monty