Alex Cuba’s evolution from his native island to the Grammy Awards with a stop at Festival Place

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There are a certain number of expectations that come from having a name like Alex Cuba.

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“I think it’s taken a while for people to know that my show is not about salsa music because of the name,” the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist laughs from his home in Smithers, BC “That’s not what I do. Of course there are danceable rhythms in my music, but connecting with my audience is most important.”

Cuba, who started life as Alexis Puentes before taking on the stage name referencing his country of birth, has been fighting lazy ideas about his music since moving to Canada in 1999 with his brother Adonis. The two joined forces as the Puentes Brothers before separating into solo careers, Alex opting to blend in dollops of funk, jazz, bossa nova, soul and more in a simmering sonic stew. You can hear it on last year’s release, Mendó, which loosely translates as ‘essence’ or ‘soul.’

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Recorded at his house, with international artists like Lila Downs, Gilberto Santa Rosa and Cimafunk adding in parts remotely, Mendó has gone on to great acclaim, picking up both a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album and a Juno nod for Global Music Album of the Year. The Grammy Awards take place in Las Vegas on April 3, while the Juno Awards are on May 15 in Toronto.

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“Looking on the bright side of the past few years, recording that album opened up a door for me,” says Cuba. “I’ve been asked to produce many artists over the years, and now I’m taking that side of it seriously by building a studio in my garage next month. It took a while for me to make this decision because I’ve always been on the road, but now I need to set aside time to do it.”

For a man that makes musical leaps with every album, Mendó is a sign that Cuba is determined to keep forging his own path — artistically, anyway. It’s the sound of a man with endless horizons, or possibly a musical weirdo who needed to leave home in order to get past the constraints of a country with a strong musical culture.

“It’s true,” he says. “I was the kind of kid who would spend hours in my room practicing bass, and I was heavily influenced by American music from a very early age. It was a point of no return for me, and I began to have a curiosity for music beyond Cuban music. Everybody knows that it’s a super musical country, but the downside is that, when you live in such a strong culture like that it’s difficult to find support for anything outside the culture. That’s when I began to construct my own identity based on the music I was listening to, and in order to become that, I had to leave.”

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Cuba’s loss is our gain, and there’s much to be intrigued with on Mendó. The irresistibly groovy upright bass and handclaps jam Hablando x Hablar, the loose-limbed, hypnotic groove pulsing through Si Tú Me Mujeres, Lila Down’s pensive vocals on Mundo Nuevo. It feels like a creative peak for Cuba, but the fact is he’s already looking past it.

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For some time now Cuba has been wanting to incorporate electronic elements into his music. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult for him to balance these parts against the organic components without draining all of the life out of them. It was a back-to-the-drawing-board moment for Cuba, but he’s found his way through the artistic conundrum.

“I went to a couple of beatmakers and tried to explain what I was looking for, but I wasn’t satisfied with what I got back,” he says. “I didn’t see myself in it; my identity was going out of the window and the music was becoming cold. So I decided to do it myself by buying a MIDI controller and doing it myself. Now I’ve managed to fuse the two worlds in such a way that my identity remains. This was important, because life is too short for me not to try new things. You can’t stop evolution!”

[email protected]

Alex Cuba

when Wednesday, March 16 at 7:30 pm

where Festival Place, 100 Festival Way, Sherwood Park

tickets Starting at $29.75 at the door or in advance from

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