ALEX CUBA

LOV­ING LIFE IN CANADA

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The stan­dard legend of the im­mi­grant mu­si­cian is a sad one, a tragic tale of leav­ing friends and fam­ily and na­tive tongue be­hind, of ven­tur­ing out into the un­known and—if the per­former in ques­tion hails from warmer climes—of deal­ing with the harsh re­al­i­ties of the Cana­dian win­ter. That’s not the story Alex Cuba wants told. Yes, there are prob­a­bly things that the singer­song­writer, born Alexis Puentes, regrets leav­ing be­hind on the shores of the Caribbean is­land that gave him his stage name, but his is not a story of loss.

“For me, it’s been a story of gain­ing,” he stresses, check­ing in on his cell­phone from the north­ern B.C. com­mu­nity of Smithers, where he’s lived for the past 15 years. “I be­came a singer-song­writer, a pro­ducer, a mu­si­cian in Canada. Canada has given me an iden­tity, as funny as it can sound. I know to many Cana­di­ans it’s mind-blow­ing to hear that some­body who came from Cuba needed to find an iden­tity; some peo­ple can’t put those two things to­gether.

“I’ve seen a lot of interviews with im­mi­grants that fo­cus only on loss, you know, omit­ting the Cana­dian side,” he con­tin­ues. “But my story is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, and I hope peo­ple will get that, be­cause I am incredibly proud to talk about my Cana­dian side, what I’ve done here.…be­cause my mu­sic was made in Canada. No Latin artist in the Latin world can sound like me, be­cause they don’t have this Cana­dian side that I have. They don’t have the sit­u­a­tions, the in­spi­ra­tions, et cetera, that I have found in this coun­try. For me, it’s been a huge, pos­i­tive story, and it’s too sad, some­times, when peo­ple just want to hear the sad things. I un­der­stand where that comes from, but come on, man! We choose to live in the present time, and we are go­ing to talk hap­pily.”

The big­gest chal­lenge with life in Canada, for Cuba, was re­al­iz­ing that this is, as he says, “a gui­tar cul­ture”. That prompted him to add elec­tric in­stru­ments to the Span­ish-style ny­lon-string pre­ferred in the Caribbean, and to adopt more of a nar­ra­tive voice, in line with the Cana­dian song­writ­ing tra­di­tion of Gor­don Light­foot, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cock­burn, and the Trag­i­cally Hip.

“In Cuba,” he ex­plains, “some­times it’s all about the rhythm; it’s all about mak­ing you move, phys­i­cally. But Canada, it’s dif­fer­ent. It’s about mak­ing you move men­tally, maybe mak­ing you move spir­i­tu­ally. You know what I mean? That in­spired me to cre­ate that way, to in­cor­po­rate that into my mu­sic— to pay more at­ten­tion to the way I craft my mu­sic, my melodies, how many in­stru­ments I have on an al­bum, et cetera, et cetera. It has given me a sound.”

If Cuba sounds like a cheer­leader for Canada, Canada has also been cheer­ing for him. His six solo al­bums have, be­tween them, won two Juno awards and four nom­i­na­tions—and that, in turn, has pro­pelled him to greater in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. His most re­cent LP, Lo Único Con­stante, gar­nered the en­er­getic mu­si­cian his third Grammy nom­i­na­tion, and he’s start­ing to take his mu­sic into ter­rain where he’s likely to find an even larger and more en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ence—a case in point be­ing this spring’s Car­naval tour, in which he’ll join forces with the highly po­lit­i­cal, Kansas City– based Latin rock band Mak­ing Movies for a se­ries of dates across North Amer­ica.

“I met them a few years ago,” he says of Mak­ing Movies, the head­lin­ing act. “I was play­ing a show in Chicago, I think it was, and they were open­ing the show, and then we played to­gether last year—in Vi­enna, I think it was—and we re­con­nected. It’s purely based on that mu­si­cal con­nec­tion: they love what I do, and I think what they do is some­thing very good, mu­si­cally. So, yes, that’s what brings us to­gether.

“We’re go­ing to be per­form­ing for a lot of peo­ple that un­der­stand Span­ish, that un­der­stand the power of my words,” he con­tin­ues. “This has been hap­pen­ing for me in Mex­ico, as well. I’ve been play­ing solo shows down there; the last one I did, I played for 2,000 peo­ple on my own, and it was un­be­liev­able—all those peo­ple singing my songs. I felt like a kid, you know? Like I wanted to play non­stop for four hours. It was beau­ti­ful!”

While you’d ex­pect that the warmth of that re­cep­tion might have Cuba think­ing of pulling up stakes yet again, the singer-gui­tarist says that he re­mains com­mit­ted to win­ter­ing in Smithers. “This year was hard and cold and we had to shovel our roof—that’s how much snow we got,” he ad­mits, laugh­ing. “But nor­mally, I’m com­pletely ad­justed. I love jump­ing in the hot tub in the win­ter and then rolling in the snow, and some­times I just lie in the snow to see how long I can stay there be­fore hav­ing to jump back into the hot tub.

“It’s fun!” he adds—and fun doesn’t get much more Cana­dian than that.

Car­naval, fea­tur­ing Mak­ing Movies and Alex Cuba, comes to the Bilt­more Cabaret on Fri­day (May 18).

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