Interview: Alex Cuba

Alex Cuba

Born Alexis Puentes in Artemisa, Alex was immersed in music at a very young age, joining his father’s group of 24 guitarists. He came to Canada in 1999, and by 2004 recorded his solo debut album “Humo De Tobaco”, which earned him a Juno award for World Music Album of the Year in 2006. In 2007, he released “Agua Del Pozo” earning him another Juno award. In 2010, he took home the award for Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards, where his 3rd album, a self-titled project, “Alex Cuba” was also nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album. It also was also nominated for Best Latin Pop Album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards and the next year he took home a BMI Latin Award for his songwriting of Nelly Furtado’s #1 Spanish hit “Manos Al Aire”. In 2012 and 2013 he won 2 more Latin Grammys. His 5th studio album, “Healer”, featured five duets including, Ron Sexsmith, David Myles and others. 2017 it was “Lo Unico Constante” and more nominations. His latest album “Sublime” features a number of iconic duets and will surely be given the industry nod as well. I spoke to Alex post-dentist…

Mb: Hey Alex, how’s your day going?
Alex: Pretty good. My face is a little bit swollen because I just had a filling put in, but it was a top tooth so my tongue is normal. (laughs) If it had of been a bottom one my tongue would be numb and it would be hard to talk to you! (laughs)
Mb: Good news! So, how long have you been living in Canada now?
Alex: Almost 21 years. I was 23 when I came.
Mb: Where in Cuba did you grow up?
Alex: I grew up in a little town, well not so little but little for Cuba, I guess. Outside of Havana City the name of the town is Artemisa, 50 minutes west of the city.
Mb: I imagine you spent a lot of time in Havana? Tell me about your early days as a musician in Cuba.
Alex: It was mostly in my town. My town had an amazing music scene. But two or three years before I left Cuba I spent a lot of time in Havana playing with bands there.
Mb: When you came to Canada did you plan on carrying on as a musician?
Alex: Kinda, ya. Most people ask, when did I make the decision to make music my living? My answer is, I don’t remember. I don’t think that I have made that decision yet. (laughs) I just rolled with it. In Cuba, I was primarily a bass player. That’s what I did in Cuba before I left. I was a jazz bass player, and of course, playing all types of music and in Canada I wanted to become, maybe, Alanis Morissette’s bass player? Or Bryan Adams, somebody like that.
Mb: So, go out on the road with a big Canadian band playing bass…
Alex: Ya, because, you know, I always listened to their music from Cuba. I was thinking, as a bass player, “OK, I’m going to go there and this is what I’m going to try to do. ” So right away, when I got here, I played with some different bands in Victoria BC. That’s where I went before I moved north. But as far as getting some attention, it was in Victoria where I first did some singing in front of an audience and before you know, where I am now? 7 studio albums later…
Mb: And a Latin Grammy…
Alex: Actually 4 of those. 4 Latin Grammys, 3 American Grammy nominations, 2 Junos… it’s been quite a nice ride.
Mb: And nothing sounds like Alanis Morissette or Bryan Adams!
Alex: Exactly. My discography covers a lot of ground. One of the reasons I picked Alanis, is because Flea, the bass player from the Chilli Peppers, did with her the one song and I thought “I could be funkier than him!” (laughs)
Mb: So you tour Canada a lot. Where else do you perform? Do you get to play at home?
Alex: What do mean home, Cuba? No I don’t play there that much. Maybe a lot of people know me but I haven’t been publicized there. But we spend a whole month on the road here in Canada. 15 shows promoting the new album and I’m looking forward to coming to Ontario, and do it all again. Then Peru. Lima Peru and then from there I’m going to Mexico. And then from Mexico I’m going to Havana. I’ve been invited to perform. For the first time ever, ever, ever, I’ve been invited to perform at the gala for the nominations for the [inaudible] awards. There’s a song on my new album called Female City (Havana) that I’ve been asked to perform.
Mb: Varadero has a Jazz festival in the summer now too. You should play that one. Lots of Canadian tourists.
Alex: Ya. That’s cool too. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, I’m pretty sure about that. The Cubans are more comfortable in inviting the Canadians to go there, more than the Cubans who live here. (laughs).
Mb: So, your new record Sublime…
Alex: Brand new album. Lots of important duets on the album. I’m singing with Cuban legends, for the first time ever. Omara Portuondo is the female voice of the Buena Vista Social Club. She’s 89 years old, and doing the album, for me, was like a dream come true. I’m also singing with pretty much the Cuban Bob Dylan, let’s just put it that way. Pablo Milanés is known all over the world, not so much in Canada. The language barrier I think, and because he didn’t do the music like the Social Club did. He is a singer songwriter, so he’s more popular in countries that speak Spanish. He’s loved by generations. I was singing his music pretty much everyday of my life. Ya, very meaningful album this one. It is a unique album in my discography, starting with the number 7, I guess. (laughs) Also, I played myself, all the instruments on the album. It was a challenge I took on. When I started to build the demos for the album, I got excited about that, because I fell in love with the vibe of playing everything, and so I did it for real on the album. It’s got almost 3 million hits on Spotify. It’s doing really well so people are loving it. It’s a very personal and intimate, vulnerable and open album. The danger in an album like this is, it takes a few listens, because I’m not there banging the music out of the speakers with electronic bass or anything like that. But it’s interesting how people get attached to it after a few listens. I think that’s the nature of music that is art, which takes me to the title of the album. That is why I called it Sublime because, let’s face it, all art can make you feel sublime and I think this album does that to people.
Mb: Nice. So you’re coming back to Peterborough Market Hall in January. I saw the show last time you were here and really enjoyed it.
Alex: Yes and guess what? For that leg of the tour, Ontario, I’m having a 5 piece band, for the first time ever. And were going to burn the house down in this place. (laughs)

Alex Cuba appears at Market Hall
Saturday, January 18, 2020 at 8:00pm

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