Posted October 26, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Cienfue’s New Album Celebrates the Tropics


In advance of his fifth album, Life in the Tropics, the Panamanian Latin roots and experimental artist Cienfue has released the new remix for “Open Her Eyes (Eyes Wide Open Remix)” by Señor Loop’s Lilo Sanchez. The remix also features vocals from Cienfue collaborator Shary Rose.

Life in the Tropics singles such as the title track, “Shining in the Dark” and “Our Own Devices” have already received acclaim from national and international media outlets such as NPR Alt Latino, People VIP, Remezcla, Noisey and ESPN to name a few.

In parallel to each single release, Cienfue will release “eye-catching and hypnotizing videos” for each track. The latest video being promoted on his Instagram amassed over one million views demonstrating the great use of social media engagement to keep communication with his fan base during these technology-driven times. “Open Her Eyes (Eyes Wide Open Remix),” a tune that features trippy synths and has a modern calypso feel, is the first remixed single off the album’s full remix album that will also feature tracks by Luxxury, ill Factor and more. That album will come out in 2021.

Cienfue recently spoke via phone from his Panama City, Panama home. 

You grew up in Panama. Talk about what that was like.
I was born and raised here in Panama. My family is Panamanian, and our musical style is about transmitting what it’s like to have lived down here and the energy of the tropics and the whole experience. I was born in 1977 and I grew up with a military dictatorship for most of my life and lived through the U.S. invasion. I had a lot of influences from U.S. culture. I also listened to a lot of Latin artists and I listened to reggae and early reggaeton from Panama. The music on the radio would be a potpourri. One song would be classic rock from the Rolling Stones and the next would be salsa. Another would be rock en espanol. We had lots of different musical influences swirling around our heads at any given time. Combine that with living next to the jungle where we have animals and plants in our lives everyday. I did an interview yesterday and there were toucans flying over my house. A lot of the influences on the new album also come from my surfing interests. I surf down here a lot. It’s part of the vibe on the album. It’s about the connection with nature. 

Was there such a thing as rock en Espanol or Latin alternative rock when you started?
When I was growing up in the ‘80s, there were just a couple of songs out. In the ’90s, it got in with Latin alternative rock and some of my biggest influences were Aterciopelados, Caifanes and Soda Stereo. Right now, I like Bomba Estereo too and some of the bands from around here. 

What made you want to start composing music on your computer?
I had the opportunity to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston from 2000 to 2002. I studied songwriting and that’s what I was passionate about. I just compose all the time. I self-released my first album using an early version of ProTools. It received quite a bit of attention. I got some videos onto MTV, and that launched my venture into music as Cienfue. That album was very influenced by rock en Espanol. I did a few albums in that vein, but this is my first album in English.

We define our sound as “Psicodelia Tropical.” 

How did your first record become so successful without the help of a major label?
It was the early days of MySpace. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have a clue. I just knew how to make music. I finished it and by some freak of nature somehow one of the first videos made it onto MTV. I don’t know how it happened but they were looking for new stuff. Someone happened upon my tape. They had a VHS tape for “Medio Alcohólico Melancólico” and played it, and it went well. It was me walking on the ocean. It’s symbolic of depression and the video had really compelling visuals and boosted my brand on MTV. I got invited to a few festivals in the region. By now, I’ve played a festival in almost every country in Latin America. It’s a big band, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s like a circus.

Talk about your approach on Life in the Tropics.
By the time I started writing for Life in the Tropics, I had produced four albums, all in Spanish. I was starting to listen to indie rock bands and wanted to make up stuff in English. There’s a lot of English down here. I’ve been really keen on the English language. I wanted to make an album that could stand with other English albums. We wrote in English to convey the meaning of growing up here and the tropical energy to the rest of the English speaking world. Whenever I go surfing, there are communities of surfers, and a lot of them speak English. I didn’t have anything in English and wanted to have some music in English for them. I’ve been more interested in going global.  

The title track is great. Is that you singing?
On all the songs, you hear my vocals. I recorded everything but the drums and the percussion. I did the keyboards, bass guitar and vocals. My backup vocalist Shery Rose is spectacular. You can see her in the video in super slow motion and her skirt looks like an animal. 

Talk about the new Eyes Wide Open remix of “Open Her Eyes.” 
This one is the remix by Lilo Sanchez, who’s a vocal legend down here in Panama. He has his own solo account. It was an honor to work with him a second time. we also worked on a track of mine called “Panama Verde Panama Red,” which is a trippy reggae song. For his remix, he really tapped into the jungle vibe. You can also hear Shery Rose on the track.

An entire remix album comes out next year?
The full album comes out, and then, we’ll do remixes and B-sides and versions in Spanish of some of the tracks. It’s a really long process with Spotify. You can just keep releasing material. We have lots of different remixes.

How has the pandemic affected you?
It’s really heavy. There are restrictive measures down here as there are in the rest of world. You can only go out for a couple of hours a week based on your sex and your ID number. They won’t let you surf here, and they were arresting surfers, and they had them handcuffed on the sand. I escaped and surfed a couple of times, but it was really stressful. I took a common liberty for granted that I could surf on the ocean. Apart from that, my wife was pregnant with my first kid. That was stressful too. We had to take a COVID test to go to the hospital. After the cancellation of our tour, I retreated into my home studio and was recording all day. I have a lot of stuff now, and it actually boosted my creative process. 

The pandemic has created so much uncertainty, but things have started to reopen and you should be able to tour at some point.
Yeah. I can’t wait. 


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].