Alex Cuba: spectacularly qualified for the first Winterruption
MUSIC by Jillian Bell
Should you go to Alex Cuba’s show? I don’t know, should you? If you don’t go to Alex Cuba’s show, you’ll miss a wriggling-in-your-seat, can’t-not-dance, “did-I-just-stumble-into-a-summer-jazz-soul-Cuban-music-festival-and-where-has-this-been-all-my-life?” experience. This Cuban-born Canadian singer-songwriter brings the warmth of Cuba to the cold, dry, frozen prairie with a funk groove you’re going to want to hear. So go!
I spoke with Alex Cuba in advance of the impending awesomeness.
You have a lot of elements from many musical backgrounds in your music. How did that come about?
My music puts together many different elements into what ends up being some sort of soul/rock. It comes from my influences — growing up in Cuba, American music was never far away, and I discovered it very early. From there, I was in love with it.
I may have a tiny crush on Ron Sexsmith. What’s it like to work with him?
I worked with Ron when I first started and that’s when we knew we had a lot in common. He blew me away with what he did on my latest album. He’s an incredible lyricist and singer-songwriter.
Rhythm is such a huge part of Cuban music. Tell me about the language it speaks in your music.
For me, rhythm is the universal language of music. It’s something that every culture on this earth has. Anybody can move to the same drumbeat. It’s such an important element in any kind of music that helps communicate about culture and language.
How did you go from learning guitar at your father’s knee to being a Juno-winning and Grammy-nominated vocalist?
I have a twin brother, Adonis, and our father used to get us to sing. He knew we had good singing voices. I was very shy, and would do harmonies to my brother but then I went deeply into developing my own tastes. Later, I started writing songs but was still too shy to sing them. I didn’t see myself as a singer until I moved to Canada. I found confidence and strength in Canada. I don’t know what triggered it, but the silence… or something made me start writing songs and I thought it was cool to give those songs my own voice. I had so much support from my brother, and when I showed up in Canada and people reacted to the sound of my voice, that helped even more to gain the confidence to pursue it.
Do you and your brother still work together?
Not really — life moves on; Adonis moved more into the traditional side of Cuban music and I let my hair grow and I’m a rock star now. But once in a while we’ll write together on Skype or Facetime. It comes to me as an idea and he knows really well how to trigger stuff in me. We know each other so well.
You’ve earned four Latin Grammies, two Junos, and you’ve been nominated for an American Grammy this year. What does this mean for you as an artist?
It brings even more credibility for the audience, but also for talent buyers. The industry gets to know me more. It helps me get my music to more people, and we’ve seen that so far in the media we’ve been doing for the tour. My publicists love it!
Why is touring important to independent musicians?
It’s the moment of completion… you start writing a song in your studio or your bedroom, and then you go and you put it on stage. With everything we’re going through with the way people consume music, it becomes more and more important to give people that real experience. People like me who take pride in the honesty of our music love the live component, because you share your songs and your energy with a live audience, and they give you something back. It’s priceless. For Canadians who can’t live the Canadian Dream — flying to somewhere warm like Mexico — we’ll bring the heat to you. We come to you and warm your soul and make you feel like you’re right there in Cuba.
Alex Cuba visits Saskatchewan as part of Winterruption, the latest, greatest festival to save us all from January’s tundraesque horror. For more information, including a full list of artists, visit www.reginafolkfestival.com.