Spotlight Series: Alex Cuba

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Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Cuba’s sugar-sweet voice and infectious Latin-pop repertoire is set to wow audiences at two permanent Levitt venues in the days to come. Having first performed at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena back in 2013, in the coming days he’ll perform a free show at Levitt Pavilion Arlington on Sunday, September 10, and another at Levitt Shell Memphis on Thursday, September 14, Levitteers in these cities are in for a treat with this four-time Latin GRAMMY-winning artist and past collaborator with the likes of Nelly Furtado, Corinne Bailey Rae and more!

It’s not typical that one comes across a Cuban songwriter laying his groundwork in small-town Canada. But that’s exactly what happened with Alex Cuba, born Alexis Puentes, in Artemisa, Cuba. With the guidance of his father, music teacher Valentin Puentes, Cuba began playing guitar at the young age of 6, immersing himself in a rich, musical environment through his formative and adolescent years. In his 20s, Cuba moved to Canada after meeting and marrying Sarah Goodacre, a Canadian visiting Cuba. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Cuba describes that he began recording solo music while enjoying the simple, pastoral pleasures of Smithers, British Columbia. Moreover, he embraced the cultural liberation he received in Canada, describing the disillusionment he felt with being a musician in Cuba, where music is often taught in a rigorous, academic manner: “People get too much education, they lose the soul of the music,” said Cuba in the interview.

However, before gaining widespread recognition, Cuba found the process of releasing music quite challenging in and of itself. In a telling interview with NBC, he describes the struggle of showing his recorded music to labels and getting rejected because of his Cuban nationality. Blue Note Records, arguably the most important record label in jazz music, loved his music but couldn’t sign Cuba due to restrictions in place by the US-Cuba Trade Embargo. Determined to put himself in the limelight, Cuba took matters into his own hands. “We created our own little label. It was 2004. I put Caracol Records on the back (of the album cover) without saying it was an independent label.” Cuba continued releasing music independently in this fashion for a few years, pacing himself as he entered the music scene.

He hit the ground running with his two solo albums, Humo De Tobaco (2006) and Agua Del Pozo (2007), both of which won the prestigious Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year. Humo De Tobaco took special notice from a burgeoning international fanbase, thanks to its hit single “Lo Mismo Que Yo,” a collaboration with Canadian artist Ron Sexsmith, as well as features from Corinne Bailey Rae. His early work features a striking Afro-Cuban sound, complete with funky basslines, plenty of syncopated percussion and assorted elements of World music. Cuba’s confident, saccharine vocals cut through the mix with crystal-clear precision; songs like “Si Pero No” demonstrate the funky and romantic sound Cuba is known for. Nelly Furtado’s 2009 album, Mi Plan, which brought on Cuba as a chief songwriter, features a similar musical style and spirit.

Cuba’s most recent release, Lo Unico Constante (2017) – which translates to “The Only Constant” –is inspired by the Cuban genre of filin (a Cuban pronounciation of the word “feeling”), a style birthed by 1940’s Cuban guitarists listening to emotive American jazz. The album finds Cuba eschewing full instrumentation for refreshingly minimalist acoustic guitars, with dashes of strings, keys and drums scattered throughout. His gently lilting voice carries the slightest hint of melancholy and world-weariness, as he provides soulful meditations on life, love and existence. It’s reminiscent of the vibrant songwriting of Tropicalía luminaries like Caetano Vaeloso and American counterparts like Jack Johnson. NPR showered Lo Unico Constantewith praise, highlighting Cuba’s “prolific talent and gorgeously sweet, heart-filled voice.” NBCcommended Cuba’s “mastery of making complexities sound simple” as well as his “sweet, smooth, soulful tenor magic.”

Having won a flurry of awards from 2010-2015, including Latin GRAMMY Awards for Best Singer-Songwriter Album, Best Tropical Song and Best New Artist, and a BMI Latin Award for writing a Nelly Furtado number one  hit, “Manos Al Aire,” it’s evident that Cuba’s virtuosic songwriting prowess is unstoppable. Levitteers in Arlington and Memphis – make sure you don’t miss out on this genre-defying artist changing the Latin music landscape, one album at a time!