Alex Cuba Charts His Own Path To International Success

Photo by George Fok

Since just before the turn of the century, Alex Cuba – born Alexis Puentes in Artemisa, Cuba – has called the province of British Columbia home. And in the almost two decades that he has called Canada home, Cuba has enjoyed a level of success here and abroad that few of his Cuban countrymen would be able to identify with.

His achievements are impressive, to say the least: Since 2004, Cuba has released six solo records, won two Juno Awards, as well as three Latin Grammy Awards. He has collaborated with a wide array of artists from New Brunswick native David Myles and Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith to internationally-renowned superstars Nelly Furtado and Corrine Bailey Rae.

But he shares his departure from Cuba remains a bone of contention for that country’s government, one that is ultimately keeping his achievements from being widely recognized and shared among his former countrymen.

“I became the first Cuban artist to win a Latin Grammy Award in 2010,” the singer shares, speaking in advance of his performance at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre on Sunday evening. “It was an event the whole town where I grew up was able to share in, as they had antennas and satellites tuned to the award show broadcast that night.”

On his way home from a European tour not long after his award win, Cuba says he decided to fly to take a slight detour to Havana before returning to Canada.

“My father was super excited at the prospect of not only having me home, but also the fact I would have my award with me, so he set up an interview with a local television station. The night before the interview was due to take place, my father received a call from the television station, which told him the interview had been cancelled at the request of what they referred to as ‘the top’.”

Cuba insists he has never made any kind of public political statement about his former homeland or anywhere else, for that matter. Although he was never given an exact reason for the interview’s cancellation, he suspects it has everything to do with the fact he left the country to live elsewhere.

“My father dedicated his life to the revolution,” Cuba says, softly. “He was a hard-working man, and was intensely proud of what I had achieved and wanted to see that success shared with his fellow countrymen. I ended up playing it off as though I didn’t care, only because my father’s health was so much more important to me than a few minutes of television airtime. I wouldn’t have ever expected or wanted anyone to risk their livelihoods to make the interview happen, but I very much saw it as a slap in the face. From that point on, I came to realize that Cuba belongs to those who have stayed there.”

Despite feeling slightly soured on his former homeland now, the singer-songwriter fondly recalls that his Cuban upbringing was rather idealistic.

“Cuba was a crazy cool to place to have grown up in,” he says. “It was easy going and joyful, and we were surrounded by music, which played an important part of Cuban culture. My father was a guitar teacher at a government-created house of culture, which they established in every town to help leverage the consciousness of the Cuban people.”

While still a youngster, Cuba joined his father’s musical group, which was comprised of 24 guitarists, before going on to study electric and upright bass.

Following his arrival in Canada in 1999, Cuba recorded an album, Morumba Cubana, with his twin brother Adonis, released under The Puentes Brothers moniker.

It was in 2004 that Cuba would find his voice as a solo artist, issuing his debut effort, Humo de Tabaco. The album ended up earning him a Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year.

Over the course of his subsequent studio releases in 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2015, as well as Lo Único Constante, his most recent record, Cuba has carved out an irresistible niche of Latin music that has been infused with hints of jazz and pop.

The roots of Cuba’s latest album began in Spain before ultimately moving onto Montreal and Victoria, B.C. The album delves deeply into his songwriting roots, having been inspired by the filin movement in Cuba of the forties that fused jazz and trova together with emotional, but not sad lyrical content.

He acknowledges the life of an independent musician is anything but a walk on easy street, but definitively says there is nothing else he would rather be doing.

“I’m so lucky to have a number of albums to my credit, and to have travelled the world. It’s been a life of hard work, but I enjoy the artistic freedom that comes from being able to call the shots.”

What: Alex Cuba
When: Sunday Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $31 for members and $34 for non-members. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca