Alex Cuba is successfully climbing that glass mountain known as the Canadian music industry and he’s doing it on his own terms.
Born Alexis Puentes, the son of respected Cuban guitarist and teacher Valentin Puentes, he immigrated to Canada in 1999, married Sarah Goodacre and settled in her hometown of Smithers, B.C., a 14-hour drive from either Edmonton or Vancouver.
Raising three children in a remote corner of British Columbia has not stopped him from releasing two Juno Award-winning albums Humo de Tabaco (2005) and Aqua Del Pozo (2008). His third 13-track self-titled album, Alex Cuba, was released in 2009 on his own label for distribution in Canada and the United States by EMI.
The Cuban expatriate also wrote more than half of Nelly Furtado’s new Spanish-language album, Mi Plan, where he also sings the title track with her. In addition, the album’s first single Manos al Aire released last June was No. 1 on the Billboard charts Hottest Latin Songs.
“It’s a very catchy tune. The minute I wrote it, I knew it would go a long way,” says Cuba, who is returning to the Arden Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 4 accompanied by David Marion on bass and drummer Max Senitt.
Cuba sees his collaboration with Furtado as a major turning point in his career. He described the celebrity icon as a natural, down-to-earth individual who made cookies for her crew and schlepped over to Starbucks to buy everyone coffee. “But Nelly knew what she wanted and was able to tell us in a very effective way what she needed.”
In his self-titled album, Cuba is making a cross-cultural leap. He’s releasing his first English-language song, If You Give Me Love, a co-write with Joby Baker. “It’s upbeat, danceable and funky with a lot of vibe from the 70s. Some people tell me it reminds them of the disco era. Others compare it to early Stevie Wonder.”
Part of what caught Furtado’s eye and continues to define Cuba’s music is its simplicity. “Cuban music is a complicated fusion of jazz and funk, but in the most show-off way possible,” he explains, believing his countrymen have created a niche market with limited international appeal.
“But when you talk in a simple language, you can go international. You go past cultures, past languages,” he says, crediting a humble Canadian lifestyle for influencing his musical style.
Cuba’s first album was recorded live in Havana and generated a mellow, earthy Latin feel. The second incorporated an electric guitar with a 70s pop essence that changed the vibe. By adding an English speaking song to the third CD, it’s his way of breaking the language barrier.
As for the upcoming concert Cuba adds, “Please let go of all your expectations and enjoy the moment. I’m going to break every rule you know.”
Alex Cuba<br />Thursday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m.<br />Arden Theatre<br />Tickets: $30. Call 780-459-1542 or visit www.ticketmaster.ca