Global Hit: Alex Cuba

The World

Back now with the answer to our Geo Quiz, and we hope it didn’t blow you to smithereens. The answer also happens to be central to our Global Hit. Here’s the subject of our global Hit, Alex Cuba, with a few more details.

�It’s an incredible valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains, very cold in the winter, but it’s super beautiful and there is something there in that town that if you go there once, you might consider staying because it’s so lovely, it happened to me. I’m loving it now.�

Alex Cuba is loving — and living in — Smithers, British Columbia…and that’s the answer to today’s Geo Quiz. Alex Cuba may be Smithers’ best known latin musician. Then again, he may be its only latin musician.

What ever he is in B.C., people are noticing his music. Recently, the title track from his latest album “Agua del Pozo” — or water from the source — was chosen as iTunes latin single of the week.

The World’s Marco Werman introduces us to Alex Cuba, the man from Smithers BC by way of Havana.

�My name is Alex Cuba, and I like to say Alex “Coo-bah.” My birth name is Alexis Puentes.�

That’s Alex Cuba’s popular tune of the moment, “Agua del Pozo.” It’s typical of his compositions: part latin jazz, part soulful crooning. The style is hard to pin down as strictly Cuban. But it’s certainly not evocative of where he lives in the far reaches of British Columbia. That’s not to say that Smithers BC has no effect on Alex Cuba’s music.

�Where I live I manage to have a very simple life. And the cost of living is very low which allows me to create without pressure. And that is worth a million in my opinion. I think…I travel with my mind, for example people ask me how is that the title track of the album that was the iTunes single of the week last week, I told people that I wrote that song with about three feet of snow outside my window, and the song sounds totally tropical. I travel in my mind, and I just listen to what comes to me and take it where it wants to go.�

What’s interesting about Alex Cuba is that despite his experience as a bass player in a jazz fusion band in Havana, he says he really didn’t find his voice as an artist until he moved to Canada.

Something that many non-Cubans don’t consider, says Alex Cuba, is the pressure created by so many incredibly talented musicians all together in one city.

�I always say that if you kick a rock in Havana, you find right underneath it about ten musicians saying ‘Hire me, hire.’ And all of them are fantastic players, right? That’s the upside of it, right? The downside of it is that we are very competitive. And it got to a point where I got to a stage to play the bass in this jazz fusion band, and if you skip a beat or something, the next morning everybody’s talking about it in town. So I just had enough of that and I said ‘I know that music is something else, and maybe to see that something else is to see the country.’�

Ironically, Cuba says it’s not so easy for his many of his fellow Cuban musicians to learn a song with a simple rhythm like this one.

�It’s happened to me a couple of times when I’ve been down there recording that I have to put a brake in every musicians’ hand. Like ‘Here’s the song, let’s play.’ The first couple of takes we do sounds pretty much like jazz fusion. And then I explain to them what I want to achieve, And finally they get it, and the end result is that when they listen to it, when the album is done and everything, they don’t believe themselves. And the first thing they say is ‘Whoa, that sound, that’s the way we always wanted to sound. It sounds’ — in Cuba we call the Americans we call them ‘juma’ — ‘it sounds so juma to me.’ Because of hip-hop music and all popular music coming from the United States, what I think gets us is the groove, the simplicity of it, but we don’t know how to do it because our technical skills are way too developed.�

It wasn’t easy for Alex Cuba to unlearn the impulse to strut his technical skills in his music. He began in Cuba by writing simpler songs, ballads and tunes with basic four-four rhythm. He would run each song by his father, who’s also a musician.

�My dad would tell me, ‘Ah, I love the song, I love where you’re going with that, I like the melody, I like the lyrics, try this, try that. But just don’t sing. Because I don’t think you have the voice of a singer.’ I said ‘OK.’

I moved to Canada. And luckily enough, we put an album together in Canada and sent it down to Cuba, sent it down to my parents, and my dad couldn’t believe it. My mom tells me that he was staring at the CD player like not believing what he was listening to. And when the song finished, he was in tears. And then I had the pleasure to go back and say to him, ‘Dad, Canada gave me that freedom.’

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