How Alex Cuba has made northern British Columbia the Latin capital of Canada
Published Thursday, November 9, 2017 1:04PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 9, 2017 1:14PM EST
In much of the Spanish speaking world he needs no introduction.
He’s won multiple Latin Grammy Awards and his intimate melodies are a favourite of lovers and anyone looking to feel a little happier about their day.
And while Alex Cuba is also celebrated in Canada, where he’s won Juno Awards, his success is in spite of industry support, not because of it.
Cuba comes from the island of his stage name. His real one, Alexis Puentes, wasn’t as easy an introduction to Canadian listeners. So for branding purposes he chose to simplify it to Alex Cuba.
He was born into a family where his father was a well-known big band performer, his brother and Alex played backup. On his family trio’s tour to Canada in 1995, he flirted with a young Vancouver university student named Sarah Goodacre.
They fell in love, she followed him back to Cuba, became his wife and together they’ve raised three children.
Eventually, Sarah’s desire to be closer to her family drew them back to her hometown: Smithers, B.C. It’s a wonderful place of about 6,000 people, nestled in a northern mountain range with excellent skiing and even better steelhead fishing nearby.
But not an obvious home for a Latin musician with international aspirations.
Still, it’s where Alex and Sarah run their independent label, Caracol Records from, and even film most of their music videos that play throughout Latin America, Spain and the U.S.
Alex credits Smithers, and the wilderness surrounding it, with giving his music a more open and airy feel, and ensuring his themes have universal appeal. It also helps lower the cost of doing business, which is important because the heavyweights of the music industry have largely been reluctant to sign him up.
It has nothing to do with his lyrics or melodies, and everything to do with politics. None of Cuba’s songs are overtly political or criticize the restrictive regime in Cuba. And yet one of the island’s most commercially successful singers is ignored in the country of his birth.
His music, unlike his father’s, cannot get radio play. When it’s heard, it’s usually on bootlegged tapes exchanged on the Island’s musical underground.
His heritage may also be the biggest impediment to an American record contract. The audience for Spanish-language music in the U.S. is massive, and yet a singer once again nominated for a Latin Grammy this year mysteriously has little interest from the big labels.
He had hoped former U.S. President Barack Obama’s lifting of U.S. business-to-business sanctions with Cuba would embolden record labels to reach out, but the opening proved to be short lived. President Donald Trump’s anti-Cuba rhetoric has made U.S. businesses jumpy again about aligning with Cuban talent.
And so, as you’ll see in our W5 documentary, Alex and Sarah are doing it all themselves: Creating the music, marketing it worldwide, making a living, and earning international awards. All from a modest home in a small Canadian town on a railroad line that leads to the Pacific.
(Photo: Anton Koschany / W5)
Alex Cuba is nominated for the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards for Best Singer-Songwriter Album. His song Piedad De Mi captures the happy spirit of his music. The video was shot in his hometown of Smithers, B.C. Courtesy Caracol Records.