Alex Cuba aims to expand ideas about Latin music
By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Smithers, British Columbia, isn't a typical Latin music hub, but Cuban-born singer-songwriter Alexis Puentes has always done things his way.
The artist, who lives in Canada, started his own label, Caracol, to release albums that don't fit into the tropical salsa mold one might expect based on his performance moniker, Alex Cuba. But staying true to his Spanish-language folk-funk-rock hybrid has paid off, with his first two albums winning Juno Awards (Canada's version of the Grammys).
Cuba -- who has co-writing credits and featured vocals on fellow Canadian Nelly Furtado's new Spanish album, "Mi Plan" -- opened for Colombian indie favorite Aterciopelados on its spring U.S. tour this year. This fall, he'll engage in a full-court stateside press.
He has a packed schedule of club and festival dates before and after the September 22 re-release of his last album, 2007's "Agua Del Pozo," with new tracks on iTunes. A physical run of 10,000 to 12,000 copies through a deal with EMI/Caroline will accompany the digital release. And in an unusual approach for a Latin alternative artist, Cuba's single "Si Pero No" is being promoted to college radio, bilingual entertainment channels mun2 and MTV Tr3s and commercial Latin radio stations.
"I have a mission to change people's minds about what Cuban music is," says Cuba, who also has his own "Live From SoHo" EP on iTunes. "They think they'll see a show with a 16-piece band with lots of horns. I do my show with a trio and we blow everyone away. I feel that doing more with less is very powerful."
Cuba is playing small venues in the United States, like Stubb's Bar-B-Q in Austin, the Mint in Los Angeles and Highline Ballroom in New York, before returning to Canada for a long stretch of shows at performing arts centers and theaters through the spring. Meanwhile, he's finishing his self-titled third album, out October 27 in Canada on Caracol/EMI and slated for a U.S. release in the spring.
"Alex Cuba" shows his breadth as a musician and songwriter, with touches of Afrobeat, meditative lullabies and a track in English (the acoustic disco track "If You Give Me Love"). There's also "Caballo," an uptempo jazz-funk blend; "Tierra Colora," a brisk psychedelic groove; and "En El Cielo," which sounds like a ska rhythm with coolly romantic salsa vocals.
For his part, Cuba -- who picked up the bass when he was 14 and grew up on the island nation fascinated by American acts like Michael Jackson and Kool & the Gang -- says it has been gratifying to see people in the audience at his shows who are familiar with his music. "It's been fun coming into my own and seeing people appreciate that."
(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)