To most Canadian listeners, Alex Cuba’s Juno Award-winning music sounds Cuban. But to much of his Latin audience, it sounds Canadian.
Don’t ask the musician — born in Artemisa, Cuba, and now living with his wife and three kids in Smithers, B.C. — which country’s vibe is best reflected in his funky, pop-rock songs.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t feel my music is half changed because it’s now being created in Canada,” says Cuba, who recently collaborated with Nelly Furtado on her Spanish language album Mi Plan.
But at the same time, Cuba can’t deny hearing some of his Miami fans describe his cross-cultural sound “like a breath of fresh air” and rave about its inherent tranquility, which isn’t heard in most other Latin music.
“They say, ‘It’s so cool. This guy comes from Canada,’ ” said the singer-songwriter, who performs on Sunday at the Elks Lodge in Red Deer.
Cuba was born Alex Puentes, in a musical family living an hour west of Havana. “I was a natural musician,” he said, noting that his house was right across the street from the School of Culture, where his dad taught him, and other promising child musicians, the guitar.
Cuba started out as a bassist with Cuban bands. He laughingly recalled his father telling him to stick to instruments, since “I don’t have a voice.”
“Maybe the timing was right,” said Cuba, but he accepted his dad’s well-meant criticism as a challenge. “I had the courage to come out as a singer,” he said, shortly after moving to Canada with his Canadian-born wife in 1999.
He and his twin brother Adonis first worked as a duo called the Puentes Brothers.
Cuba later went his own way to create more of a fusion funk-pop sound, which landed him a Juno Award in the world music category for his 2006 album Humo de Tabaco.
His single Lo Mismo Que Yo, featuring Ron Sexsmith, even became a Top 20 hit in the U.K.
Cuba’s follow-up album, Agua Del Pozo, incorporated an electric guitar for the first time and earned him a second Juno Award in 2008.
Cuba’s self-titled third album features yet another innovation — his first English language song.
The songwriter recalled coming up with an interesting guitar riff in the middle of a recording session. “I took a risk,” he said, and stopped recording to focus on co-writing this new song with his producer — even though the lost studio time was costing him money.
He now believes the result — a tune called If You Give Me Love — was completely worth it.
“The reaction has been unbelievable. People are loving it, so I might do more English songs now,” said Cuba, who has drawn his musical inspirations from dreams or even had them drop out of thin air.
One of his biggest career boosts was getting the call from Furtado, who had heard of him through one of her guitarists.
Cuba co-wrote and recorded a duet with Furtado called Mi Plan, which turned out to be the title track for her 2009 studio album of the same name. His Afro-Latin funk-pop contribution, eventually had a big influence on the album; Cuba said he recorded nine songs with Furtado and seven made it on to her CD.
Working with the internationally known Canadian singer was “beautiful, very exciting, very inspiring,” said Cuba, who admires Furtado for many reasons — not the least of which is her enthusiasm.
“It was lovely to see her so excited about all the new music we were making. To see somebody who has sold so much music all over the world still be so excited was really inspiring to me.”
The Central Music Festival Society presents singer-songwriter Alex Cuba at 8 p.m. at the Elks Lodge.
Tickets are $26.25 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre or Valhalla Pure Outfitters.