Both geographically and musically, it’d be hard to get much farther away from Cuba than Smithers, B.C.
And yet, that’s where singer/songwriter Alex Cuba finds himself these days.
Cuba, originally from Artemisa, Cuba, musically lives everywhere between the town of his birth and his adopted home in northern B.C.
His sugarcane-sweet melodies, pop/soul hooks and rock chords subtly alter commonly held notions of Cuban music. He has crafted a cross-cultural Latin Soul sound which mirrors his geographical journey.
Cuba, nominated for a 2011 Grammy for best Latin pop album, plays The Banff Centre’s Margaret Greenham Theatre, Feb 2 at 7:30 p.m.
From his earliest years in Artemisa, Cuba was immersed in music. His first stage appearance on national TV was at the tender age of four, playing claves (a percussion instrument) in a group directed by his music instructor father. Cuba went on to study guitar, percussion and bass, practicing eight hours a day during his teens.
Cuba’s first performance effort was with his twin brother, Adonis; they recorded Morumba Cubana as The Puentes Brothers.
After that, though, Cuba followed his own path. His debut CD with the Alex Cuba Band, Humo De Tabaco, earned him a Juno award for World Music Album in 2006, with the single “Lo Mismo Que Yo”, featuring Ron Sexsmith, charting in the top 20 on BBC Radio 2.
For the Humo CD, Alex took UK producer Martin Terefe to Cuba to record the album’s funk-infused horns and percussion, a sound which got under Terefe’s skin. The Alex Cuba sound is now evident on Terefe’s productions for Craig David, Ron Sexsmith and Jason Mraz.
Cuba’s next stint in the studio was much closer to home – in Victoria, B.C. at Joby Baker Studios – where he recorded Agua Del Pozo, which was released in Canada in February 2007 under his own Caracol Records imprint.
Agua received acclaim for tempo, instrumentation and songwriting on the album, and for the introduction of Cuba’s electric guitar, a vintage Gibson. The CD also earned Cuba his second Juno for Best World Music Album (2008).
The song “Si Pero No”, which was an iTunes Single of the Week in Japan, proved big with fans and confused radio programmers who didn’t know which format in which to program it.
In the digital world, Cuba has had four iTunes Singles of the Week (Canada, U.S., Japan, Netherlands), has charted on various iTunes charts in Canada, the U.S. and Japan and has built an impressive, loyal online community around the world.
Beyond his own work, Cuba collaborated with Nelly Furtado on her Spanish language debut album Mi Plan (My Plan, 2009).
A prolific songwriter, Cuba continues working on new collaborations with writers and artists on various projects and recorded his third, self-titled, album at Baker Studios in 2009. The album featured new grooves and guitar inflections and varying tempos and structures.
The first single “Caballo” (Horse), a Cuban-funk-rocker, was also made into a video conceived and produced in Smithers. Other highlights are “Solo Tu” (Only You), a moving, mid-tempo rock ballad, “Tierra Colora” (Red Soil), a samba-rock-surf-punk sizzler and the funked up “If You Give Me Love”, Alex’s first-ever song in English, which was recently serviced to radio, video and online outlets in Canada.
Alex Cuba was honored with the award for Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards which took place Nov. 11 in Las Vegas. The album Alex Cuba was also nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album.
Constant touring is critical to Cuba’s success. Cuba plucks, strums and rocks his Gibson ES355, equipped with the heaviest gauge steel strings available, without a pick.
With a heart as big as his retro ‘fro, Cuba takes everything in stride and focuses on what he does best: crafting songs that cut through linguistic and cultural barriers like a machete through sugarcane.
Tickets for Alex Cuba are available through the Banff Centre box office at 403-762-6301 or 1-800-413-8368.