Alex Cuba is currently touring the U.S., headlining shows all around the country. But from the way Cuba talks, he might as well be traveling the country on a giant cloud as big as the trademark Afro he sports.
The 36-year-old Cuban singer/songwriter (né Alexis Puentes) is still riding high from his Best New Artist win at the Latin Grammy Awards last week in Las Vegas. The man was kind of surprised when he was called on to present the list of nominees at a news conference and discovered that he was in two categories. "I was hoping for one, but they surprised me with two: Best New Artist and Best Male Pop Vocal Album," says Cuba, on the road from Boston. "And it felt amazing. It was very, very amazing."
The Grammy, which he won for the self-titled album he released this year, can now sit next to the two Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammys) for World Album of the Year he received for his first two albums, 2005's "Humo de Tabaco" and 2007's "Agua del Pozo."
It has been an amazing time for Cuba. Not only is he being awarded for his music, but he's also being called on to pen songs for other star artists. Cuba wrote half the songs for Nelly Furtado's 2009 Spanish album, "Mi Plan" (Furtado also won a Latin Grammy for that album, by the way), after a musician friend of Cuba's hipped her to his music.
"She actually tells me later that the variety of music created some sort of uniqueness to her ear," he says. "It is what made her attracted to what I do. And that's why she pursued it and I received an e-mail asking me to play with her, because of that approach to music, you know."
For Cuba, it's all about variety, mashing up music genres and coming up with his distinctive sound. His eponymous release has him throwing in rock, soul, jazz and, of course, old-school Cuban music, accentuated by Cuba's peppy Spanish vocals. (He does sing in English on the track "If You Give Me Love.") This result is a crowd-pleasing collection of Afro-Latin pop.
He learned all of this when he was very young. "My father is a guitar player," he says. "He taught me how to play guitar. He is very knowledgeable of Cuban music. And so growing up, I was listening to traditional Cuban music in all its forms, until I was around - I don't know - 11 years old." He says he gradually started listening to American music (Michael Jackson was a big influence). By age 14, he started playing bass and picking up on other genres: jazz, funk, rock. "There wasn't a preference for me anymore, musically."
Moving to Canada
Cuba credits his move to Canada as a turning point in establishing his style. In 1999, he and his twin brother, Adonis, settled in Victoria, British Columbia, and started an act called the Puentes Brothers. They dropped an album, "Morumba Cubana," in 2001. Eventually, they pursued solo careers in 2004, but maintained a songwriting relationship.
He's made Canada his home for the past 11 years, living in British Columbia with his wife and three kids. "Maybe the change in culture, language, whatever made me go inside myself and find the real Alex from there," he says. "Canada was the playground that allowed me to bring all of the influences out of me in the most organic way."
But he still wouldn't mind getting some love over the border in the good old U.S. of A. Cuba has remarked that his Grammy win could open up some doors for him. He says it's starting to work already.
"I have to say the U.S. has been fantastic with me," he says. "I find that my music appeals a lot to Americans and to many different kinds of backgrounds and cultures. I see that, in my shows, many people come from many different backgrounds and they all unite for the love of my music."
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