Timing is everything, or so says multiple Juno and Latin Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Alex Cuba. The high profile Cuban-Canadian recording artist now living in Smithers, British Columbia was the recipient of two Latin Grammys.
But in 2022, he was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Latin Pop Album category for Mendó, his eighth studio CD. Cuba had attended previous industry ceremonies, but in April 2022 he’d committed to a concert with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and declined to attend the gala event.
“I was driving back in snowstorm with my wife, and I found out I won. It was a surprise. My manager was texting me and he thought I knew,” said Cuba with a chuckle.
Winning the Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album placed him in the stratospheric company of Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, José Feliciano, Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony. He now enjoys a level of fame in the Spanish-speaking world generally reserved for superstars.
Since the beloved Latin-Canadian singer-songwriter's early touring concerts more than a decade ago, Arden Theatre audiences have always embraced his romantic, infectious sense of joy. As part of series of solo concerts across Canada, Cuba returns to the Arden Theatre on Friday, Feb. 24.
He translates the Afro-Cuban word mendó as “the substance of the soul and all its hidden talents. For instance, when you go to a restaurant and eat a wonderful meal that blows your mind, it’s because the cook puts mendó in it. And I put the essence of my talents into music.”
The 10-track was digitally produced during COVID lockdowns. CBC Radio organized a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Just the Two of Us, Ain’t No Sunshine). They asked Cuba to record a Withers song and send it in.
“I wasn’t sure I should do it, but my wife — she is my best mentor and partner — suggested I do it. I grabbed my recording gear, placed it in the living room and sang Just the Two of Us. It was bilingual and the response was beautiful.”
The pandemic’s unpredictability had left him in a funk.
“But recording this song was enough for me to switch into a creative mode. From then on, I worked on Mendó.”
While recording in the digital universe, Cuba donned a producer’s hat and invited six special guests: Lila Downs, Cimafunk, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Raul Midon, Antonai Carmona and Gian Marco to participate. Each track was designed to evoke a specific emotion with music ranging from funk to flamenco, nuevo canto to bossa nova ballads.
Cuba’s vocals are clear, precise and pure – a different offering from his initial dreams 24 years ago when his plane from Havanna touched down in Toronto.
“I was focused on bass playing for 10 years. I came here to become a well-known bass player. I liked Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill and I learned a lot of the language from it.”
First performing with twin brother, Adonis, as the Puentes Brothers and then leading the Alex Cuba Band, his career expanded in a different directions.
“Slowly I became something I didn’t see coming, and if someone had told me, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
For Cuba, the hardest thing is keeping the music exciting for listeners. However, the peace and quiet of living in Smithers with a population of 5,000 allows him to discover his identity layer by layer.
“Sometimes a CD is so noisy, you end up doing what everyone else is doing. But here I find a way to make it comfortable balancing life and a career.”
That’s not to say, Cuba shies away from major centres. In Nov. 2022, he performed in Madrid and the experience left him wanting more.
“My finger work and melodies resonated with Spanish people. They found similarities in what I do to their music. It’s a massive market for my music, and I now feel I have a super-solid body of music and a strong identity. I did two sold-out shows, and I was surprised and pleased people knew my music.”
Meanwhile, Cuba is working on airing more singles and recording an upcoming album of new songs and acoustic covers. His latest single released on Feb. 10 is Quiero Quedarme, written with Colombian composer Benji Cordera.
Cuba performs Friday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arden Theatre. Tickets are $38. They are available online at www.tickets.stalbert.ca or at 780-459-1542.