Alex Cuba sharpens his award-winning songwriting even more on Sublime

Seven albums in, Alex Cuba has upped his game again with Sublime.

To appreciate that statement, you should consider the Smithers-based singer/songwriter has already racked up four Latin Grammy Awards and two Grammy nominations for the best Latin pop album. No surprise the legendary Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo (Buena Vista Social Club) and rising star Silvana Estrada make appearances on the John (Beetle) Bailey-engineered record.

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They are the only other performers on the album recorded in Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Spain.

Cuba handles every other instrumental duty on the disc and he's never sounded better. As he readies for an extensive round of touring across North America and elsewhere, the musician discussed the realities of breaking into markets where his music is more readily consumed.

As an almost entirely Spanish language artist, his fame is far greater outside of this country than in it. He's fine with that.

"Mexico has emerged as quite the place for me in the past few years," said Cuba. "According to streams on Spotify and other sites, it is the place that listens to me the most and we are, obviously, paying attention to that. It's the kind of place you can find any kind of music really and where they are quite open to a lot of variety in the music."

That's a good fit for the artist whose work can best be described as pop/rock. Owing to his understanding of Latin American genres ranging from bolero and bachata to rancheros to son, Cuba has always worked elements of these forms into his hook-laden material.

But there are considerable influences drawn from classic pop tunesmiths like the Beatles or funk masters like Stevie Wonder turning up in gems such as his hit Directo. On Sublime, he opens with a complex rhythmic romp titled Yo No Se that could have been on an early Brazilian Tropicalismo release by Caetano Veloso or Gilberto Gil.

The artist loves the comparison, noting he still listens to a lot of recordings from that era because they are "so real, so honest, the music is pure and it keeps it sounding alive." That he can write something that hearkens back to that creative hubbub is impressive. That the opening song on Sublime was an instant recording is amazing.

"Yo No Se was the last song on the album, written on the spot on the last day in the studio, which came from a bass line I was jamming and loved and knew I had to use," he said.

"So I was writing the lyrics while I was playing all the different parts, shouting them out and we were both rolling on the floor by the end of it blown away by the results. Essentially, the concept of the song became was Alex Cuba rehearsing with Alex Cuba, so I made this video for it that has me, in colour, and a bunch of black and white Alex Cubas playing the song."

The track sets the vibe for Sublime

and it's spot on for the collection of a dozen songs ranging from the tender lead single Voz De Corazones to the easy flowing duet Solo Mia with Mexican star Leonel Garcia.

Dominican star Alex Ferreira and Cuban musicians Kelvis Ochoa and Pablo Milanes also appear on the album. For those in the know, this lineup along with Portuondo and Estrada demonstrates the kind of pull that Cuba has in the upper levels of Spanish language stars. People want to perform his songs.

"I grew up listening to people like Pablo Milanes, who is the Cuban Bob Dylan, and Omara and others and really wrote the songs that they appear on with their spirit in mind, because their work really shaped my writing," he said.

"And when I decided to go to the next level and see if they would honour me by appearing, I was really taken aback that they knew who I was and knew my work and said yes. Canada may not be the best place for putting my music forward, but the reason that my music is fresh and different is because it comes from Canada."

Sublime holds a special spot in Cuba's heart as it is the record, he believes, that took him back home to his birth country of Cuba and reflects the journey he's taken to where he is today. The musician originally hails from Artemesia, Cuba, and both he and his brother, Adonis, were schooled in music by their guitar-playing music teacher father from a young age.

Alex and Adonis settled in Victoria in 1989 after Alex married a Canadian he met in Cuba. The Puentes Brothers duo released a Juno-nominated debut, eventually deciding on solo careers around the early 2000s. Alex moved to his wife's hometown of Smithers in 2003 and has run his career from the central B.C. town since.

He said he can make music anywhere and finds the natural beauty and chill vibe completely suited to crafting his, frankly, more tropical material. He is constantly jotting down ideas, melodies and more on his phone wherever he is and that process was used on Sublime.

"I recorded this album in Gibsons with Garth Richardson, because Beetle Bailey said he had a great sounding room there," said Cuba.

"So I packed up all my toys -- seven guitars, congas, a standup bass, bongos, shakers, triangles and more -- into my car and drove down. It took two days and I had my computer connected to the stereo and the phone on voice memos.

"I had a lot of time to myself to think about things like, 'Oh, we need a handclap there and this would be a good place for more backing vocals.' "

The ultimate goal is to give each song the right vibe and Cuba feels Sublime has it in large amounts. All the technological tricks in the world can't fake it. If it's there, you can make it happen anywhere.

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