Canadian Musician - May/June 2023 | Page 34

ALEX CUBA Finds His Groove

By Matt Bauer

For Alex Cuba , the road to his first Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album with 2021 ’ s Mendó started in his living room . In lockdown and commissioned by CBC ’ s Hot Air , Cuba recorded a bilingual cover of the late Bill Withers ’ “ Just the Two of Us ” as a tribute to the recently departed soul troubadour , and never looked back .

“ I just kept recording the album that gave me my first American Grammy , something that I ’ ve been looking for a while ,” he explains from his home in Smithers , BC via zoom . “ It was my fourth nomination . And it came when I least suspected it .”
Whether Cuba expected it or not , the honour was well-earned . Having already garnered four previous Latin Grammy awards , the artist , born Alexis Puentes on March 29 , 1974 , has accumulated a notable ouevre throughout his career that has helped re-define the perception of Latin music in Canada .
As the son of guitar player and musical teacher Valentin Puentes , to whom Cuba proudly refers as an encyclopedia of Cuban music , Cuba ’ s first musical inclination was toward the claves . He appeared on Cuban national television playing the instrument at age four . “ For Cuban music that ’ s like the metronome of the music ; it ’ s the heart of the beat ,” he explains of the two piece percussion instrument . “ It ’ s played using a pattern that you repeat in . If you make a mistake , the band around you start feeling it and you could throw the band off . So , me four years old , doing that , enjoying it — there is a strong memory from that up to this date , I still remember how it felt to do that on national television . And how I felt holding my hands , I still feel the same vibrations when I ’ m about to go on stage .”
Raised in the town of Artemisa , Cuba would find his instrumental wheelhouse at age six when his father began teaching him guitar . “ I think he thought that I was musically ready when I was four , but my hands weren ’ t big enough . And in Cuba , we didn ’ t have smaller guitars , like student guitars ; everything [ was ] the regular size . So , my dad waited until I was six to start teaching me guitar . And I remember having a relationship with music and with a guitar — it was so joyful . I remember my dad had asked me to practice , I