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Smithers, BC is a world away from Havana, but it is right where Alex Cuba wants to be. Since immigrating in 1999, Canada has been very good to Cuba (real name Alexis Puentes but taking his native country as his stage name). In that time, he has released six albums – one with his brother under the Puentes Brothers moniker and five solo albums – that have each surpassed the last in both critical and fan reaction.

His ability to blend Cuban and Latin rhythms with soul, blues, and pop has earned him two JUNO Awards, four Latin Grammy Awards, and two Grammy Award nominations, with his latest coming in 2016 for last year’s album Healer.

“For me, I look back and I can’t find in my memories at any moment where I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, it is so hard here in Canada. It is so cold and I have to go back to Cuba,’” jokes Cuba, still speaking with a thick Cuban accent from his home in Smithers that he shares with his wife of 20 years. “For me, the so-called ‘process of adjustment’ to the new country, it didn’t exist. It just happened, boom. So I didn’t have to spend time or energy on that and I got right to it. Aside from being in a new country, I just said, ‘OK, I’m a musician and I’m going to prove that I’m a musician.’”

His music is shaped by the experience of singing in Spanish in an English/French nation. It’s a sound that at once reminds listeners of the musician’s tropical roots and inspires them to conceptualize an emerging genre of Latin soul. Cuba’s smoky vocals and adept guitar-work cross genres and cultures through magnetic pop/soul hooks.

According to Cuba, there are two kinds popular musicians, those who experience commercial success quickly but not critical success, and those who do the reverse. He is the latter. Cuba is still surprised at how quickly he gained critical aclaim in Canada. His first three albums were each nominated for JUNOs in the World Music Album of the Year category, with the two solo albums winning in 2006 and 2008. Even so, commercial success has been a steady build as he refined his live show.

Once he began embracing more soul influences and shrank his stage band from nine to four pieces, putting more emphasis on his own voice, that is when audiences began to really notice him. The turning point came while playing two opening slots for world music singer Angélique Kidjo. He received standing ovations and even had to do an encore as an opening act, an exceedingly rare occurrence for any musician.

“With a voice like mine, you have to have very little around it for people to really enjoy and feel it,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the next Buena Vista Social Club or the next hot Latin band in Canada.”

When Cuba’s tour comes through the FirstOntario PAC in March, he hopes people will be dancing, as they do at most of his shows, but says that is the audience’s choice. “I never try to get people up, like, ‘Dance! Here we go!’ I know that some Cuban bands do that when they come to Canada, try to get people out of their seat and dance, but hope that some spontaneous dancing happens. We’re going to make sure we take it to the next level and people have an unforgettable night.”

- Michael Raine

Alex Cuba Partridge Hall MEMBERS: $29.75 REGULAR: $35 COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY: $25 HIGH SCHOOL: $5

7:30PM Fri 4 Mar

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