By Liam Prost
Full disclosure: Roots Editor Liam Prost is an employee of Festival Hall. This interview was conducted upon the announcement of Alex Cuba’s Grammy nomination after his tour had been booked.
CALGARY — It shouldn’t surprise you that Cuba is not the Latin singer-songwriter’s legal surname. Alex Cuba a.k.a. Alexis Puentes is Cuban-born, Smithers, B.C.-based, a world-renowned musician who has been awarded with four Latin Grammy Awards, and is now nominated a second time for an American Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album for his 2015 LP Healer. Cuba is humbled by the nomination, but for him this type of recognition holds “multiple meanings.” Reassurance for making and touring beautiful music for sure, but also for continuing to operate independently, stationed from “a very small town in Northern B.C.”
Cuba remarks that a lot of the media that covers him assumes that he lives in Toronto or Vancouver, but he is not interested in living that way. Cuba is the first Canadian to ever win a Latin Grammy, and is “honoured to be representing Canada” alongside other great Canadian nominees in the American Awards this year. Though he is not Canadian-born, Cuba hopes that this nomination will dig “[his] roots further into the ground” of our fair nation.
Cuba sings mostly in Spanish, but he is not at all ignorant of his current home. His new record sees him bringing other Canadian talent. Healer features collaborations with other musicians, several of which are bilingual duets. Guests include four Canadian musicians such as New Brunswick’s David Myles and the legendary Ron Sexsmith. This was no ploy to improve his Canadiana credibility either, Cuba is glad to call these musicians his “friends,” with whom he can make music that comes “straight from the soul.” Ron Sexsmith specifically wrote his part of “Half a Chance” within 24 hours of receiving Cuba’s lyrics translated from Spanish to English.
The songs on Healer, much like Cuba himself, live in “two different worlds,” and Cuba hopes that this helps folks enjoy his music, understand what he is singing about and even sing along to a chorus or two without knowing Spanish. In a world where so much music like Cuba’s gets dismissed or subcategorized into non-specific labels like “world music,” Healer is delicately rhythmic, bright and sunny pop music that should appeal to both you and your grandma. The record is also immaculately produced and refreshingly diverse. The warm bass grooves are in effect everywhere you would expect from a Latin pop artist, but there also resonant keyboards and slippery guitar leads that would not be out of place on an Apostle of Hustle record. There’s even some beat boxing.
Cuba makes songs that will lift the corners of even the most upended lips. Cuba stresses the importance of being “100 per cent honest with who you are” in your music. There is no tension between Alex Cuba’s Latin origins, and his current Canadian trappings, rather, he perfectly embodies the Canadian ideal while making the exact music that he wants to make.
Alex Cuba will be touring throughout January with stops including the Geomatic Attic in Lethbridge on the 20th, The Bassment in Saskatoon on the 22nd, Winterruption in Regina on the 23rd, the Park Theatre in Winnipeg on the 24th and Festival Hall in Calgary on the 30th. Check online for more dates.AB, Alberta, Alex Cuba, Festival Hall, Geomatic Attic, Grammy, Grammy nominee, Park Theatre, The Bassment, Winterruption