“It’s a brand new year, it’s a brand new album.”
Alex Cuba is clearly excited about his latest record and his new tour. The newest recording, Sublime, was released in the fall, and he’s starting the second leg of his tour in Kingston on Wednesday at The Grad Club.
“This will be different than the November tour,” said Cuba over the phone from his home in Smithers, BC, which is about the halfway point between Whitehorse and Vancouver. “That tour was a four-piece band. Instead of drums, it was percussion, plus two guitars and bass. This tour is a five-piece band because I’m playing bigger venues.”
Sublime is Cuba’s seventh album, and the first on which he recorded all of the instrumentation himself.
“It’s a decision I made when I was putting together the demos in little studio-slash-garage here in Smithers,” said Cuba. “After I made the fourth demo, I said ‘I think the music wants to be this way.’ I was afraid that if I brought in other people, the vibe would get lost. It’s very fragile.”
While some artists may keep the personnel count low in order to save money, that wasn’t the case for Cuba.
“That decision wasn’t based on money,” he said. “It’s strictly based on sound. In the effort of explaining it to other players, it would be very easy to not get it. The demo process was quite intense, I really got inside this music, and the timing worked out beautifully, we scheduled the recording at a time when I had just finished the demos.”
Fans can expect to hear music from Cuba’s previous six albums in the second set of the show, while the first set will be mostly comprised of tracks from Sublime, the new album.
“It’s an interesting show, because the music is quite intimate, it gives you an amazing, huge trip around the Cuban diaspora of music,” said Cuba. “It’s very rich in rhythm and it’s very melodic. It took a lot of playing and rehearsing time to really get inside the music. My music throughout the years — it’s very easy for a musician to overplay. I find the music sounds bigger when you play it more simply.”
Before moving to Canada from Cuba, where he was born Alexis Puentes in 1974, at the age of about 25, Cuba was well-established as a musician, but had never been a singer. He arrived here in 1999 and had his first Juno award by 2006.
“I don’t submit my albums to the Junos world music category anymore,” said Cuba. “The Junos either need to come up with a Latin music category or allow music like mine to go in all the categories. If I ever get a nomination that is not world music, I would feel very successful. For once I wanna feel like I’m competing with the big boys. My concern with that category is that it’s not really about the quality of the music. Many artists are there because of their ethnicity. If you were a Brazilian musician, and you’re big there in pop music, you can come here and be excluded from the pop music category.”
In his addition to his Juno wins, Cuba has won four Latin Grammys, has had three Grammy nominations, and a BMI Latin Award for a song he wrote with Nelly Furtado that was a number one hit for her in 2009. With all this success, Cuba is not reluctant to give credit where it’s due.
“There is a lot of Canada in what I do, even though my mother tongue is Spanish,” said Cuba. “In Cuba, you get everything except the melody of the song, the music is super dense. I’ve reversed the way of looking at music — this country taught me to put the melody and the song first, and everything else will come together. I think that has helped make me stand out in Latin America. I wasn’t singing when I left Cuba. I started singing in Canada. If I never left Cuba I’d be a bass player still. And I’ve seen the Latin music scene grow in Canada. However, some of it is frustrating because Latin music is very young here, and it’s very difficult for the average Canadian to pick out the difference between good and bad Latin music. It could create an unhealthy scene. ”
There are nine shows in this leg of the tour, then Cuba heads to the US for a series of solo and trio shows. Then it will be time to work on a new record.
“As soon as you finish an album you start thinking of the next,” said Cuba. “I really want to surprise my fans for the next album. It’s the best way to feed creativity.”
Alex Cuba plays at The Grad Club this Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.