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Alex Cuba followed up his Grammy win by taking another artistic risk … and it worked

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The opening song on Alex Cuba’s brand new album, El Swing Que Yo Tengo, is about liberating oneself from the pressure of other people’s expectations.

It’s something that Alex has been uncommonly good at throughout his life – defying the expectations of the Cuban music establishment by moving to Canada, deconstructing the music of his homeland and reinvigorating it with so many new ideas that he’s become an in-demand collaborator for some of the biggest names in Latin music.

But this new album might be the biggest testament yet to Alex’s fearlessness as an artist.

Because in the wake of his first ever Grammy win for his last album, Mendo, he resisted whatever urge he might’ve felt to play it safe and took perhaps one of the biggest artistic risks he’s taken in his career: incorporating electronic elements into his music.

“I started writing these songs, and I knew that they had something … that wanted to go that way,” he said.

“What I wanted to do was to mix my organic sound with electronics without losing my identity or compromising.”

At first, he didn’t think he had the experience to pull it off on his own, so he approached a couple of beat makers to work with him.

But what they came back with didn’t work for him, he said. It drew him too far away from who he is as an artist.

So he bought a midi keyboard and “started pushing buttons,” he added.

“The first month, I’m a kid in a candy store.”

What he came up with is an album that seems to flawlessly walk the line between the soulful, organic sound Alex is known for and that pleasing, subtly synthy pop sound that dominates a lot of what the kids are listening to these days.

‘I never thought that I would enter the CBC top 20 charts’

His long-time fans have embraced it, he said, but it’s also struck a chord with younger people.

“I never thought that I would enter the CBC top 20 charts; I was number one on CKUA,” he said.

“I’m pleased because it’s the album that follows my Grammy-winning album.”

The response has reaffirmed for Alex the importance of going with his gut and following his creativity, he said.

It has also underscored once again the fact that the most important component of any album is the songs.

El Swing Que Yo Tengo finds Alex, who is now closing in on 50, reflecting lyrically on what’s important in life.

Collaborating with a Rwandan star

The second track, “No Puede Sur,” laments the state of friendships in our society, where it’s common for people to sever years-long camaraderies over Facebook posts.

“La Bestia” was inspired by a homeless man Alex met who told him he had decided to live on the streets in order to escape “the system.”

And the aforementioned title track is about staying true to oneself.

Another standout is the album’s closer, “Aguita de Coco,” a duet with Rwandan star Buterra Knowless.

It was organized by Rwandan-Canadian artist Popo Murigande, better known to Canadians as The Mighty Popo, who is now back living in his homeland.

Alex was blown away by Buttera’s talent, he said.

“It was the first time that I don’t have to explain to a guest artist anything about the performance, anything about the rhythm or the phrasing,” he said. “She blew my mind. It was so beautiful.”

Alex is already working on another new album, a solo acoustic album with just him and his guitar.

He is also working on a single and video that will feature his parents and twin brother, Cuban sonero Adonis Puentes.

And this holiday season will see him release his first Christmas song.

“As you can tell, I don’t stop,” he said laughing.

“I feel that now is time for me to step on the gas.”

See Alex Cuba live:

  • July 1 – Midsummer Music Festival, Smithers, BC
  • July 21 – Waterloo Jazz Festival, Waterloo, ON
  • Aug. 18 – Bear Creek Folk Festival, Grand Prairie, AB
  • Sept. 21- Tidemark Theatre, Campbell River, BC
  • Sept. 22 – Mary Winspear, Sidney, BC
  • Sept. 23 – Kay Meek Theatre, Vancouver, BC

 

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