Four-time Latin Grammy-award-winner Alex Cuba went back to his roots with his latest album
After a 13-year career and six full-length albums, Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Cuba finally knows who he is as an artist. He shares this with his listeners on “Yo Sé Quién Soy,” (I Know Who I Am) the second song off his latest album Lo Unico Constante (The One Constant).
“The day after I wrote that song, I listened to it for like, two days straight,” Cuba says. “It’s a very powerful message that, for some reason, came down to me fast and organically. I didn’t even have to think about it. It just wanted to be and to exist. I embraced the lyrical content and screamed out loud ‘Yo Se Quien Soy.”’
It’s relatable and probably the most human thing a person can think about daily.
“I also feel that this came at the right moment,” Cuba says. “With all the internet and all this social media we have crossing so many cultures, it’s important to know who you are and where you come from so you can embrace change, you know?”
Cuba has been an artist to embrace change since day one. Singing in Spanish and sometimes English, each of his albums contain songs that span soul, funk, folk and other arrangements.
His latest album takes inspiration from the Cuban “filin” musical movement that originated in the late ‘40s. It took direct inspiration from the United States’ jazz crooning genre, a specific style of soft-singing. While the U.S.’ style relied on a full band or orchestra, the Cuban movement usually had one singer and a nylon-stringed guitar.
“The songs on this album are my own interpretation of that sort of movement that got to me through my father,” Cuba says. “My father’s guitar playing was inspired from that and I grew up listening to him a lot, so that style is in me.”
Cuba was already writing acoustic-based music when elements of filin began trickling.
“After three or four songs like that, I decided that was the way to go, because of the sentiment on the songs maybe. It gave the album a more toned-down feel, letting the album be more about the songs rather than what was happening around the songs,” Cuba says.
It also, at times, gives the album a more intimate approach. Even though Cuba recorded in the studio, it sounds and feels like he’s playing these tunes right next to you.
“I go back and forth thinking that my voice sounds better in an acoustic universe,” he says. “For me, I always tend to favour the melodies and songs that come naturally. What you hear from my albums is mostly what has come to me unexpected.”
Melodies and chord arrangements pop into Cuba’s head every day and he has developed a way to only pay attention to the ones that really move him.
“Over the years something cool has happened. A melody starts in my mind and after humming it or whatever, I know at that moment if it’s going to be a really cool song,” Cuba says. “It’s almost like I’ve developed a filter to favour and pay attention to the ones that feel strong to me. Sometimes I’m on a plane and I might hum it into a phone, so I probably look like a crazy person doing this.”
But it seems to work. Since starting in 2004, Cuba has won two Junos and four Latin Grammys, with the latest album alsobeing nominated.
“I never thought that I would get this much recognition. Especially in the States. I never thought they would embrace what I do so openly because I have this Latin-Canadian hybrid sound,” he says. “I’ve done this completely independent. Nobody signed me because I’m Cuban. We’re talking like 2003 and there were not many musicians that were Cuban in the U.S.”
Still, Cuba has embraced being an independent artist.
“The most horrible feeling is to feel trapped in music. Making things only one way. I enjoy the freedom of creating I get as an independent artist,” he says. “The title of the album reflects that freedom, but also the one constant in the universe is change. I have that ability to change with no particular style. So you put all those things together and you get Alex Cuba.”
Sat., Nov. 4 (7:30 pm)
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