Alex Cuba On Fire

Cover Sept 25, 2010

Alex Cuba On Fire

By Lenny Stoute

The Alex Cuba story is a uniquely Canadian one. Just ask the Cuban born musician, who lives in the British Columbia town of Smithers B.C amid giant trees and a mountainous backdrop. Better than 1,000 kilometers from Vancouver, it's home to Alexis Puentes (Cuba’s real name), his Canadian-born wife, their three children and a pair of Junos.

“That this all happened is so unlikely,” offers an upbeat Puentes, chilling at home base. “Starting with the idea of launching a music career from a small town in British Columbia and I didn’t speak much English. A lot of people told me; you’ll kill your career, you move out there. I noticed when I first was playing in Canada there were many musicians playing the bars who seemed happy to have that gig playing the same venue every week. I looked at that and figured it wasn’t the way for me. I thought that attitude held players back from developing and so I determined to pursue my career in a different way”

On the eve of the U.S. tour to launch the second recording, “Agua del Pozo”, his different career path is working out just fine. This last year has been a terrific one for Alex Cuba. Tearing up a Showcase at SXSW generated positive buzz, leading to sell-out tours in the U.S. In Canada Cuba scooped his second Juno for Agua del Pozo and a Canadian Music Week Favourite World Music Artist award. A third album done in Victoria with producer Jody Baker drops October 27th in Canada. Down south, in tandem with a distribution deal with EMI for Cuba's own Caracol Records, “Agua del Pozo” drops Sept.22nd  in the U.S. The supporting tour starts September 24th at the world renowned House Of Blues in New Orleans. Cuba’s never played there and is as excited about the prospect as a kid in a New Orleans candy store. America has proven very receptive to Cuba’s neoCuban rock fusion sound, which he asserts is authentically Canadian as wheatfield soul.

“For me to have arrived at this place in my music was only possible in Canada. In Cuba, it is all about being the best, the fastest, in other words, playing for other musicians. They have forgotten about playing for people and while the technical level is amazing, the soul is lacking. They are not trying to communicate anything other than see how good I am. I believe that music is about more than that.” Cuba states.

“The same thing would have happened if I had relocated to Miami, Florida. Being from Cuba, there would be certain expectations, certain ways I would have been expected to do things. When I first came to Canada it struck me how different kinds of music were mixed up and there were so many genres. Canada gave me the freedom to be myself, so in Canada, I was free to be who I was.and make my music. I would say it's a distillation of my national music and the things about pop and soul the attracted me. Canada is where, even though I am singing in Spanish, people are willing to give me a chance and even they may not understand a word, are able to appreciate the feeling in the music."

That appreciation was quick in coming from the Canadian musical community for both his sound and songwriting abilities. Debut album “Humo De Tabaco” featured a duet with Ron Sexsmith, “La Mismo Que Yo”, which made Top Ten in the U.K. pop charts. Currently he’s going to the bank behind the first two singles off Nelly Furtado’s Spanish language recording, “Mi Plan”. The title track and ‘Manos Al Aire” are among the nine tunes Cuba, Furtado and guitarist James Bryan laid down during the session.

“We were introduced by her guitar player James Bryan. She had been working towards doing a Spanish album for awhile and James thought we should meet up. She had heard my material and liked it. Once we met up it went very well, the vibes just clicked . We went into the studio with Bryan to do one song and ended up writing nine. It was such a natural process working with Nelly it's likely we’ll be doing something again . I might go on tour opening for her at some point".

For now, New Orleans and 11 other cities beckon as part of the burgeoning American appetite for his music. The growing and widely distributed Latino population in America accounts for some of that but Cuba sees his mainstream audience growing as well.

“America has more than enough musicians playing Cuban music. What I am bringing is Cuban-derived, guitar-driven pop music. Each album takes me a little further away from  traditional arrangements and makes my sound a little stronger. I’m excited to see how America takes to the new album, Agua del Pozo”.  In Cuba I was very into progressive jazz, but I always felt pop music would give me a better chance of communicating with a wider audience. So far I have done well and I'm happy with the way sticking with my vision has worked out. I want my music to communicate that experience”.