Singer-songwriter Alex*Cuba hails from Artemisa, Cuba (1 hour west of Havana) and resides in Smithers, B.C. (14 hours north of Vancouver). Musically, he lives everywhere in between. His trademark sugarcane-sweet melodies, pop-soul hooks and rock chords subtly subvert commonly held notions of what Cuban music is. Alex is on the vanguard, crafting a cross-cultural sound that mirrors his geographical journey. Not tied to tradition, this Cuban-Canadian prefers his vintage Gibson over el sencerro (cowbell) anytime. Forgoing conventional stereotypes that typify much of the Latin music landscape, Alex is instead defining his own “Latin Soul” genre. Like the handful of unique, genre-defying artists before him, Alex’ uncompromising “go your own road” approach was difficult and lonely at first, but is now beginning to pay dividends.
From his earliest years in Artemisa, he was immersed in music. Alex's first stage appearance on national TV was at the tender age of four, playing claves (a percussion instrument) in a group directed by his music instructor father. Alex went on to study guitar, tres, percussion and bass, practicing eight hours a day during his teens.
After a stint with his twin brother Adonis to record Morumba Cubana, as The Puentes Brothers, Alex departed from Cuban music norms to follow his own path. His debut CD with the Alex Cuba Band, “Humo De Tabaco”, earned him a Juno award for World Music Album in 2006, with the single “Lo Mismo Que Yo”, featuring Ron Sexsmith charting in the Top 20 at BBC Radio 2. For “Humo”, Alex took UK producer Martin Terefe to Cuba to record the album’s funk infused horns and percussion, a sound that got under Terefe’s skin. By extension, that “Alex*Cuba sound” is now evident on Terefe’s productions for Craig David, Ron Sexsmith and Jason Mraz.
After a musical and spiritual evolution, Cuba returned to the studio, this time with co-producer Joby Baker of Victoria, to record “Agua Del Pozo” which was released in Canada in February 2007 under his own Caracol Records imprint. Acclaimed for its blend of tempo, instrumentation and songwriting, the album is a clear evolution from the debut, punctuated by the introduction of Alex's electric guitar, a vintage Gibson. With the soul-pop sensibility of tracks like “Si Pero No”, the album revealed Alex’ Latin Soul DNA. The song, which was an iTunes Single of the Week in Japan, proved to be huge with fans and confounded radio programmers who didn’t know which format in which to program it. “Agua” earned Alex his second Juno Award for Best World Music album 2008. “Agua Del Pozo” was released in the U.S. with two unreleased tracks on September 22, 2009 to fan and critical acclaim alike.
In the digital space, Alex*Cuba has had four iTunes Singles of the Week (Canada, U.S., Japan, Netherlands), has charted on various iTunes charts in Canada, the U.S. and Japan and has independently built an impressive, loyal online community around the world.
Alex recently collaborated with Nelly Furtado for her Spanish language debut album “Mi Plan” (My Plan) which was released September 2009 around the world (Universal). The creative chemistry between Alex, Nelly and James Bryan was magical and resulted in nine co-writes including the #1 single “Manos Al Aire” (Hands in the Air) and the title track where he appears as an invited guest on vocals. A prolific songwriter, Alex is continues working on new collaborations with writers and artists on various projects.
In between tour dates and the Nelly Furtado collaborations, Alex recorded his third album at Baker Studios in Victoria, B.C. The self-titled project was released October 27th, 2009 in Canada and the U.S. release is slated for June 8th, 2010. Featuring surprising new grooves, innovative electric guitar inflections and varying tempos and structures, the album is an important step in Alex Cuba’s ongoing musical revolution. The first single “Caballo” (Horse), a Cuban-funk-rocker, was also made into video conceived and produced in Smithers. Other highlights are “Solo Tu” (Only You), a moving, mid-tempo rock ballad, “Tierra Colora” (Red Soil), a samba-rock-surf-punk sizzler and the funked up “If You Give Me Love”, Alex’ first-ever song in English, which was recently serviced to radio, video and online outlets in Canada. The album was just released in the U.S. to acclaim by media outlets and his growing, loyal fan community. Early radio accolades for the album include an NPR “First Listen” feature, an “Album Of The Week” feature at Jazz FM UK, a glowing Billboard review and lead-off track “Directo” was selected as KCRW’s “Today’s Top Tune.” Most recently, Alex was honored with the award for Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards which took place Nov. 11th in Las Vegas. The album “Alex Cuba” was also nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album.
Critical to Alex’ success has been constant touring with a live show that has been described as explosive. Revealing his bass player past, Alex picks, plucks, strums and rocks his Gibson ES355, equipped with the heaviest guage steel strings available, without a pick. With Alex its just skin on steel, with solos that often lead to bleeding fingers. His visionary rebel nature is evident in the fact that contrary to the prevailing Cuban and Latin big band formations, Alex*Cuba performs as a trio (Alex on vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass and drums). The simplicity, power, and sheer efficiency of this formation has stolen the stage from bands quadruple their size and has confused many production teams expecting the typical big band at load-in. Doing more with less is an ever-present mantra for Alex*Cuba.
With a heart as big as his retro 'fro, Cuba takes it all in stride and focuses on what he does best: crafting songs that cut through linguistic and cultural barriers like a machete through sugarcane.
Alex Cuba - Vocals, guitar
Max Senitt - Drums
David Marion - Bass
Humo De Tabaco (2005) - Juno Award Winner 2006
Agua Del Pozo (2007) - Juno Award Winner 2008, "indie" Award Winner 2008, West Coast Music Award 2008
Alex Cuba (2009) - Juno Award nominee 2010, Indie Award winner 2010, Latin Grammy Awards - Best New Artist 2010
"Thrilling, Diverse Show" - Miami Herald
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Alex Cuba provides thrilling, diverse show BY JORDAN LEVIN JLEVIN@MIAMIHERALD.COM There's no tell...Alex Cuba provides thrilling, diverse show
BY JORDAN LEVIN
There's no telling where and how Cuban music will go when it's unleashed, to judge by guitarist and songwriter Alex Cuba's concert Saturday night. Roaring with rock guitar licks, underpinned by a lacy and oblique but steely Cuban rhythmic structure, Alex Cuba's music supplied proverbial tropical heat in thrillingly unexpected ways.
The show at the North Miami Beach Bandshell was part of Fundarte and Miami Light Project's Global Cuba Fest, which aims to showcase the ways that Cuban music is developing around the world. Locals may have been shivering in the chilly night, lit by an almost full moon, but for Cuba, who has lived thirteen years in northern Canada, it must have felt positively balmy. He has an unfaltering sense of his native island's music burning inside to keep him warm.
At first, Cuba's gritty, virtuoso rock guitar seems to have more in common with Jimi Hendrix or seventies rock that matches his retro style sideburns and an Afro nearly as wide as his shoulders. Playing with two non-Cuban musicians, drummer Roberto DiPietro and bassist Robert Jost, in a tightly locked in trio, Cuba's music was taut and muscular, buzzing with bluesy edge or funky strut or echoes of familiar rock guitar riffs.
But underlying it all were the feeling and rhythms of classic Cuban son and boleros. On Piropo (the name for the sometimes poetic comments men make to women on the street), Cuba and Jost traded dissonant guitar licks over a barely perceptible son beat. On Si Pero No (Yes But No), about rejecting temptation, Cuba played dissonant guitar riffs between a funkified son beat. His voice is rich and colored with emotion in classic Latin style, but when he sings a song like Lamento, with its tropical lyrics and bolero-like melody, his anguished bluesy tone, and unexpected guitar harmonies unsettle the melody's simple lilt and emotions in a surprising, unexpectedly urgent way.
On songs like Dime Si Despues (Tell Me If Afterwards), Cuba played contrasting harmonies and rhythms on the guitar, and on what could have been a simple bolero, Sin Final (Without End), he mixed bass and guitar playing in a way that buzzed and danced around the clavé (the basic Cuban syncopated 2-3 rhythm). His playing is virtuoso in itself, doubly so when you realize the musical structure underlying it. 'I prayed for Jimi Hendrix' spirit to help me rearrange this song,'' Cuba said to introduce El Carretero (The Cart Driver), a classic son made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club, before ripping into a dizzyingly jazzed up rendition of the song that pushed its gentle rhythmic tension to exhilarating limits.
For the encore he played Agua del Pozo (Water from the Well), the title track from his latest album, a classic Cuban style tribute to moving hips and irresistible dance music, Cuba alone on his guitar, playing what seemed a whole orchestra's worth of exuberant and infectious rhythm. And for the crowd dancing under the cold but bright moon, he was a dance band all by himself.
"He's like Marvin Gaye singing soul to a new generation" - Boston Globe
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His sound is a mix of Cuban heat and Canadian cool By James Reed, Globe Staff | May 4, 2008 AUST...His sound is a mix of Cuban heat and Canadian cool
By James Reed, Globe Staff | May 4, 2008
AUSTIN, Texas - Alexis Puentes is running late with his sound check, but the crowd at Copa, a popular Latin dance bar on Congress Avenue here, seems driven to distraction. It's hard not to stare at Puentes, who performs as Alex Cuba. There's his towering Afro reminiscent of Sly Stone's, the bushy sideburns that jut out to the corners of his mouth, the tight-as-Tupperware ripped jeans, the big brown eyes, and the toothy white smile Al Green used to flash back in the '70s.
Puentes, in town for the South by Southwest music festival, looks exactly like his music sounds: funky, soulful, and, yes, suave. Fifteen minutes into his set, the audience, which had been seated cross-legged on the floor, has gotten up to dance, one by one like dominoes in reverse. They're spinning around the dance floor, all elbows and hips and Coronas swinging from hands held aloft. But Puentes is giving them something irresistible and completely unexpected: an evening of old-school soul and funk - en español.
Here's where the mambo record skips a beat. Puentes is a 33-year-old Cuban singer-songwriter who knows those three words are fraught with expectations and, usually, misconceptions. For the casual fan, Cuban music often equals the 1-2-3 of cha-cha, the infectious rhythms of Cuban son (more cowbell!). It's salsa queen Celia Cruz, the wizened singers of the Buena Vista Social Club, or maybe solitary troubadour Silvio Rodríguez.
From the first note strummed on his acoustic guitar, Puentes and his two backing musicians make it clear at Copa that this isn't the Buena Vista Social Club convening. He's like Marvin Gaye singing soul for a new generation - a Spanish-speaking audience hungry for something more organic and tangible than your typical Latin-pop star.
"There's definitely a perception of what Cuban music is in the United States, and it can be kind of narrow," Puentes says a few days later over coffee. "[People] think 'Guantanamera' or Buena Vista Social Club. That's fine, but that's not me. I don't consider my music just Cuban music. It's more than that."
Even more confounding is the fact that Puentes, who makes his Boston-area debut at the Regattabar Wednesday, lives with his wife and three kids in Canada, in Smithers, a scenic town in northern British Columbia, and that's where he eventually found his musical identity.
Born in Artemisa, about 40 miles from Havana, Puentes was raised on the Cuban classics by his guitarist father, but he also grew up listening to American jazz, blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll. Michael Jackson was just as important as Tito Puente.
The duality of his upbringing is the cornerstone of his sophomore album, "Agua del Pozo" ("Water From the Well"), which was released on iTunes in this country in February. Puentes comes on strong with a mix of slow-burning soul songs ("Amor Infinito") and infectious dance tunes (the thumping title track) driven by Cuban percussion, horns, and Puentes's guitar and bass.
Not just a party soundtrack, the album has quieter moments that are just as intense. The ballad "Lamento" is remarkable for its minor-key electric guitar melody and the lament in question: "I walk aimlessly/ Without knowing why I didn't look for you today," Puentes sings in Spanish.
Puentes has taken his time to get to the heart and soul of his new album. He made his television debut at 4 years old, playing clave with his father's band. He took music lessons at an early age, learning from his father, whom Puentes calls an "encyclopedia of Cuban music," in addition to studying with instructors at the local "casa de cultura," a government-sponsored program where musicians teach kids for free. At 14, he started playing bass and anything else he could get his hands on and soon made a name for himself in the community.
But it wasn't until Puentes moved to Canada that he found a voice to match that name. Puentes accompanied his father's band to Vancouver in 1995, where he met his future wife. They got married within months of dating, moved to Cuba for a while, and then returned to Canada in 1999 to stay.
As he did so quickly in his homeland, Puentes has already distinguished himself in the Canadian music scene. In 2001, as the Puentes Brothers, Alexis and his fraternal twin, Adonis, recorded "Morumba Cubana" ("Cuban Style"), a collection of mostly originals heavily indebted to traditional Cuban music.
The album was nominated for a Juno Award, Canada's equivalent of a Grammy, for world-music album of the year. Puentes's solo debut, "Humo de Tabaco" ("Tobacco Smoke"), won that award in 2006, and "Agua del Pozo" continued the winning streak earlier this year.
Joby Baker, who produced "Agua del Pozo," met Puentes when he first arrived in Canada and has watched his friend and fellow musician come into his own, but only after leaving his comfort zone.
"He never sang before he moved to Canada. Coming up here, he started looking at the guitar and writing his own songs," Baker says. "His music isn't sounding so traditionally Cuban anymore because he's really immersed himself in the music scene here. He's living 14 hours north of Vancouver with his wife's family, and he's surrounded by people who play roots music. He's soaking that up like a sponge."
Baker says when Puentes started singing, it was a huge step forward, especially given the uniqueness of his voice.
"When you come from Cuba, the type of voice that people like and notice is the voice that's like a trumpet," Baker says. "It's a voice that can cut through a big band, very loud and dramatic. Alex has a rich, smoky, soft voice. Having said that, he can also rock out."
Puentes echoes Baker's sentiments that it took leaving Cuba to find his place.
"North America taught me that no matter how much you learn, no matter how many technical skills you develop and how high you take them, if you forget your soul," Puentes says, punctuated by a pause, "you're nothing."
He gives Canada all the credit, but it would have happened anywhere, he acknowledges, except maybe in the United States.
"If I would have gone straight to Miami, you and I wouldn't be talking right now," he says, referring to the fact that he probably wouldn't be able to develop his own style in a predominantly Latin music community. "My heroes right now would be Gloria and Emilio Estefan. If I had gone to Miami, I don't think Alex Cuba would be allowed."
Back at Copa, a packed house has allowed Puentes to do whatever he wants, including an interesting choice to wind down the night: "El Carretero," a Cuban staple most likely introduced to American audiences on Buena Vista Social Club's self-titled debut from 1997.
"Well," he later concedes with an ear-to-ear smile, "that's a great song. Sometimes you can't deny something is really good regardless of where it came from."
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Cuba manages to span North America" - Chicago Tribune
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Here's how Cuba manages to span North America By Benjamin Ortiz | Special to the Tribune January...Here's how Cuba manages to span North America
By Benjamin Ortiz | Special to the Tribune
January 25, 2008
Notes flow from Alexis Puentes' impassioned voice and delicate strumming of the Cuban tres guitar, syncopated with trickling congas and crisp bata drums, like minty mojito poured onto the tip of the tongue.
It's "the essence" of Cuban music, as Puentes says, what you've been thirsting for when you seek out typically Latino sounds of The Buena Vista Social Club or contemporary salsa borne between New York and the Caribbean.
Like the name -- in Spanish, "puente" means "bridge" -- his musical and personal style is a hemispheric channeling of both this Cuban essence and popular North American music, with a cultural heritage equally Latino and global. In traveling translation, Puentes becomes the stage persona known as Alex Cuba, a sugar-cane-sweet distillation of his homeland and his transnational identity.
With a soulful mix of pan-Caribbean rhythms, African-American funk and R&B, jazz and pop motifs, Alex Cuba strikes a handsomely hip pose musically and stylistically, sporting a vintage Gibson, robust Afro, sideburns and bell-bottoms.
Cuba visits Rumba next week to showcase his CD, "Agua del Pozo" (Caracol Records), due for release Feb. 9. Like "Water From the Well" (as the title translates), Cuba wants to satisfy the palate parched for new Latin musical flavors, and to feed the multiple sources of his own creative soul.
Moving from the countryside near Havana to British Columbia was the first major step in Puentes' quest for a musical persona.
"To be completely honest, I wanted to try life outside of Cuba," he says from Canada, "to hear music from other points of view, and I never regretted that I left." With the Alex Cuba Band, he released "Humo de Tabaco" in 2005, later shortening his artistic brand to Alex Cuba.
"I came to a point where I realized I'm a singer-songwriter," he says, "and the name makes a statement of both where I come from and how I'm trying to stand out."
His latest CD fuses the alt-Latin genre and Afro-American Diaspora, from jazz and soul to traditional Cuban son. The disc digs also into the Cuban "Feeling" Movement, an up-tempo spin on the traditional bolero, but with sentimental, jazz-and-blues-influenced vocals, a la troubadour Pablo Milanes.
With Puentes on Gibson, tres, bass, bata drums, and shaker, the record also features Wurlitzer, congas, bongos, timbales, maracas, and a rich array of horns, suggesting sultry textures and very danceable sentimentality. In "Tu Boca Lo Quita," Puentes plays in Spanish on multiple meanings of "your mouth takes all the bad away" and "your mouth is crazy/wild." And the lyrics "Dame una mordida" mean "give me a bite" and "try me out" and more besides, with Puentes' voice yearning for elusive pleasures, every song dripping with sensual metaphors.
With a stripped-down combo for his show at Rumba, Puentes will play from his recordings and unreleased material. He suggests that even if you don't understand Spanish, the music says all you need to know.
"Somehow, the sound of my voice is very popular with the Anglo-American audience -- it's not a typical singer's voice in Cuba, but it's a very soulful sound, something very intimate and personal I like to share."
"Northern Exposure" - Time Out Chicago
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Northern exposure Searching for his voice, Alex Cuba leaves his island home for the Great White Nor...Northern exposure
Searching for his voice, Alex Cuba leaves his island home for the Great White North.
By Matthew Lurie
Alexis Puentes was born in 1974. But Alex Cuba was born in 2001. ï¿½The name came to me about six years ago,ï¿½ says Puentes, over the phone from his adopted home in Victoria, British Columbia. After moving to Canada and realizing his island birthplace was suddenly an asset, a name like Alex Cuba quickly explains a lot. ï¿½Iï¿½m totally confident of what I am now,ï¿½ the former bassist and sideman says, ï¿½and thatï¿½s a singer-songwriter.
That might not seem like a courageous statement in North America, but in the highly competitive, jazz-heavy musical world of urban Cuba, the notion of writing easy, hummable songs can be tantamount to cursing Fidel. Fresh off a Juno nomination (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy nod) for his debut album, Puentes offers his second effort, Agua Del Pozo (Caracol), this month. And true to form, it owes more to acoustic soul men like Bill Withers and James Taylor than to the Buena Vista Social Club. The albumï¿½s light, breezy and has an eye on pop form; the only vestiges of his formative years are the occasional rippling guitar flourish and gentle hints in the grooves of Cuban son.
Born in Artemisa, a small town on the western end of Cuba, Puentes learned most of his technique at homeï¿½and on bass. He studied under his father, a respected session guitarist, and the rest came during three years at one of the countryï¿½s famously rigorous music academies. A professional gigging bassist by 17, Puentes was a quick study. ï¿½I remember the first day I heard Jaco [Pastorius],ï¿½ he recalls. ï¿½I said, ï¿½This is what I want.ï¿½ I could play every note of Jacoï¿½s solos.ï¿½ But Puentes also was spending valuable time singing and writing music on his own, much to his fatherï¿½s dismay. Puentesï¿½s fraternal twin brother, Adonis, has the more traditional sonero voiceï¿½as compared to Alexisï¿½s understated croonï¿½and so any opportunities singing within the competitive family went to Adonis. ï¿½I asked my dad at one point to listen to some of my songs and tell me if he saw any talent in me, or if I was just a bass player,ï¿½ Puentes says. ï¿½He said, ï¿½I like where youï¿½re going with that. But remember, you donï¿½t have a voice of a singer. You should get someone else to sing, like your brother.ï¿½ï¿½
His fatherï¿½s words would motivate Puentes, but not in the way they were intended. During a tour stop in 1995, while traveling with the family band (Los Puentes) in Vancouver, he met his future wife, setting his career on a diverging path. The two moved back to Cuba, but their stay was brief. ï¿½My wife loves Cuba, and probably would have stayed, but I always felt there was something else, something more than what we had musically in Cuba,ï¿½ Puentes says. ï¿½I wanted to see Cuba from a different point of the planet.ï¿½
Instead of fostering individualism, Puentes explains, the fierce competition among musicians creates a technically skilled yet ultimately homogenous scene. ï¿½Timba [the jazz-funk-salsa hybrid style] has been ruling Cuba for a while. It has really difficult jazzy horn lines that can only be played with a million rehearsals a week. And it appeals only to musicians,ï¿½ Puentes says. ï¿½So the bands only care about the arrangements and how tight they are and everything ends up sounding the same.ï¿½
After four years in Cuba, the couple moved to Canada in 1999 and Puentes, soon to be Alex Cuba, immediately signed up to perform on bass at an international music festival in Victoria. During a break between acts, Puentes borrowed a fellow musicianï¿½s guitar and began an impromptu concert of his songs. ï¿½One of the teachers came up to me and said, ï¿½I didnï¿½t know you could sing, bro!ï¿½_ï¿½ he says with a laugh. The organizers asked him to play a set the next dayï¿½this time on guitar and voice. ï¿½As soon as I opened my mouth to sing, this audience of 300 people started clapping their hands and the whole theater got up. And that was my first introduction to singing in public.ï¿½
For his Chicago show, Puentes will play an intimate set, with only a percussionist at his side. ï¿½My approach to music now allows me to play without a large ensemble,ï¿½ he says. And Cuban music neophytes need not worry: ï¿½You donï¿½t need to know how to dance to enjoy my music.ï¿½
"Alex Cuba: Change Agent" - Ebonyjet.com
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Alex Cuba: Change Agent Cuban influences take 70s soul and migrate to Canada Monday, January 07, ...Alex Cuba: Change Agent
Cuban influences take 70s soul and migrate to Canada
Monday, January 07, 2008
By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Alex Cuba looks like a latter day Sly Stone, with a towering fro, skin-tight bell-bottoms and bushy sideburns that creep towards the sides of his mouth. But rather than just copping a fabulously retro fashion sense, Cuba also borrows from Stone’s genre-bending musical approach. A multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter who grew up in the Cuban countryside, he produces sophisticated Latin pop in the artic fringes of a Canadian logging and mining town. Drawing diverse influences from Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Blind Boys of Alabama as well as from his rich heritage, Alex Cuba artfully represents the new face of Cuban contemporary music.
For people who still think Cuban music means the vigorous rumba of Los Munequitos de Matanzas or the big band son of Buena Vista Social Club, Alex Cuba has got something for you. His eloquent sophomore album, Agua Del Pozo (Caracol) pours out like a creamy tropical drink. There are no orchestras, no bombast, no raucous rhythms. Playing a vintage Gibson guitar and crooning through 13 tracks with a supple voice that caresses the Spanish lyrics, Cuba’s sound bridges tradition with new-school flair. He layers funk, jazz and pop over a foundation of Cuban elements that form a fresh take on Latin music.
As the son of noted Cuban guitarist and teacher, Valentin Puentes, Cuba received a rigorous music education while growing up in rural Artemisa, 45 miles south of Havana. By the time he was four, he was on national Cuban TV playing the claves with an orchestra of 24 guitars led by his father, who insisted on first approving any music he and his twin brother, Adonis heard.
It was under these exacting demands that Cuba formed his understanding of Cuban traditional music. He and his brother toured the island and became popular musicians, first with their father’s guitar ensemble and then with their own. Wielding authority that comes from an encyclopedic knowledge of Cuban music, Valentin advised Cuba to stick with playing and leave the singing to his robust-voiced brother. Cuban music traditionally uses large ensembles and orchestras that require singers to have huge, colorful voices that ring out over the sprawling sound. So Cuba kept his softly nuanced voice to himself and concentrated on playing jazz bass.
Perhaps the frosty British Columbia climate snapped Cuba into his real identity because once he moved there in 2000, everything about him changed. He walked into a thrift store and a pair of 70s era bell-bottoms just called to him. They were an exact fit. Realizing that even though he was born in 1974, a large chunk of his influences stem from a free flowing, soulful, 70s sound, Cuba connected his image to his music. He joined his twin, who had moved to Canada before him and formed the Puentes Brothers, finally singing as well as playing bass. They produced a critically acclaimed album of Cuban music, Morumba Cubano and then promptly disbanded. Adonis became a salsa singer and Cuba became what he really wanted--a singer-songwriter with Cuban influences.
His 2006 debut Humo de Tabasco (Globe Star), announced his arrival with a collection of understated tunes and expressive vocals. It even produced a UK top ten hit, (the first Spanish language song to ever accomplish this) “Lo Mismo Que Yo,” a catchy bolero with a guest spot by Canadian singer Ron Sexsmith. The album won Cuba a Juno Award (Canadian Grammy) for best world music album and the inspiration to delve further into how he thinks contemporary Cuban music should sound.
Agua Del Pozo does not initially sound like Cuban music. Filled with sunny lyrics that deal with love on some level and oozing with a relaxed vibe and delicate rhythms, the CD easily joins the polished Latin pop ranks of Columbia’s Juanes, Brazil’s Seu Jorge and Mexico’s Café Tacuba. On closer inspection, the essence of Cuba is all there, it just whispers instead of shouts. On “Y Que Bongo,” funk mixes with swirling Cuban horns to create a tune so full of flavor that even Cuba’s finicky father sings back-up on it. Most tellingly, in his album acknowledgments Cuba not only thanks his family, but Eleggua, his orisha or deity, in the Santeria religion practiced by most of Cuba. Indeed, underneath the CD notes, a photo of elekes, the brightly colored, bead necklaces worn by Santeria devotees, sparkles. Traditional Cuban music may not dictate Alex Cuba’s sound but the presence quietly remains.
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The last time Cuba's Alexis Puentes came to town in 2005, he was also an aspiring solo artist in sea...The last time Cuba's Alexis Puentes came to town in 2005, he was also an aspiring solo artist in search of his own sound.
"When I went down there, I was still in search of who I am," said Puentes, speaking by phone from his home north of Vancouver. "This time, people are going to really experience my personality on stage and I'm looking forward to serenading" the people of L.A.
Like Juanes, Puentes (who goes by the stage name AlexCuba) is also promoting a new album, "Agua del Pozo" (Water Hole), released on his own Caracol label. It represents the evolution of his fusion, a poetic and melodic blend of pop music elements with gentle Cuban rhythms and a significant debt to the Cuban trova or singer-songwriter tradition.
It's a triumph for an artist whose own father had urged him to leave the singing to his brother, Adonis, the other half of the Puentes Brothers, a duo in exile who recorded the tasty "Morumba Cubana" in Canada several years ago.
But Puentes wasn't interested in just moving people's feet. He wanted to move their hearts as well. When he found his voice, he split with his brother and went in search of a more intimate musical setting suitable to his warm, enveloping style.
Ironically, he found it about as far as he could get from Cuba and its intensely competitive dance music scene. Home is not Havana, but the small town of Smithers, about a 14-hour drive north of Vancouver.
"I'm close to Alaska, brother," said Puentes, who married a Canadian woman, now his manager, and started a family. "It can be minus-30 outside with snow up to the windows, and I'm writing hot songs."
Puentes, backed by two local musicians, was scheduled to perform a pair of free shows in town this weekend: Friday at California Plaza and an early evening set tonight at LACMA. But fans will also get a chance to catch him later this evening in a club setting thanks to another show added to his agenda. He'll perform a late set at the Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, a new venue in town for jazz and Latin jazz, featuring a baby grand piano, excellent acoustics and the rare menu choice of Manhattan-style clam chowder.
"I think we've lost a lot of the reasons why we do music in Cuba," he concluded. "The musicians there have developed such a high level of technical proficiency that it's hard to find something nice and simple. . . . I wanted to find a peaceful place to create and be more truthful to my creativity."
Whether the music comes from Colombia, Cuba or Canada, it always seems to come together in L.A.
The AlexCuba Band performs today, 5 to 7 p.m., at LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. (323) 857-6000.
"At the forefront of Latin alternative/pop music" - Exclaim!
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Alex Cuba Agua del Pozo Five years ago it would have been inconceivable that some of the mos...Alex Cuba
Agua del Pozo
Five years ago it would have been inconceivable that some of the most inimitable Cuban music today was coming not from the land of the son or the barrios of New York but an isolated, rural area of British Columbia, in the form of a baby-faced, afro-haired, Cuban immigrant that could surpass Seu Jorge in coolness factor. Known simply enough as Alex Cuba, he has quietly built a name for himself, winning the Juno award for Best World Music Album in 2006. With the release of Agua del Pozo, Cuba has clearly cemented himself at the forefront of Latin alternative/pop music. At a time when the genre is turning more to a world of glossy videos, cheesy lyrics and the endless imitating of whatever everyone else is listening to, Cuba’s music is refreshingly honest and heartfelt. Like a younger Jorge Drexler, before Drexler started doing Radiohead covers, Cuba has mastered the art of wrapping jazz, rawer pop sounds and son influences around simple yet clever meanderings about love and life’s musings. Opening the album with two acoustic numbers, which are sparse with light horns and Cuba’s honeyed voice, the first impression is that it may play like a quiet bedroom album but as soon as the percussion comes in on the second verse of “Lamento” and Cuba takes over with smart licks on his vintage Gibson, which sound as simple as a tropical breeze, the album takes on an astute character all Cuba’s own.(Caracol)
"This is a brilliant album." - Georgia Straight
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Agua del Pozo (Caracol) Singer-songwriters in the centuries-old tradition of Cuban trova blend Sp...Agua del Pozo (Caracol)
Singer-songwriters in the centuries-old tradition of Cuban trova blend Spanish folk roots and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The trovador best known to westerners is the late Compay Segundo of Buena Vista Social Club fame. Alex Cuba—real name Alexis Puentes—has inherited the mantle and is taking the tradition into exciting new territory, incorporating elements of funk and jazz.
Recorded in Havana and Victoria B.C., Agua del Pozo features 13 songs with a romantic yet never cloying feel. There’s more muscle than on Puentes’s Juno Award–winning previous album Humo de Tabaco , which occasionally resorted to syrupy strings. The opener here, “Amor Infinito”, is a jaunty midtempo number whose arrangement includes subtle but punchy horns reminiscent of Caetano Veloso.
Puentes—who plays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and bata drums—has grown considerably as an artist and songwriter. He feels and sounds perfectly relaxed on tracks such as the bittersweet ballad “Lamento” and reggae-tinged “Tu Boca Lo Quita”. This is a brilliant album. Its title translates as “water from the well”, and Puentes draws straight from the deepest and coolest of Cuban sources.
2x45 min sets or 1x90
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