'Cuban soul rock' artist Alex Cuba looks to Europe, U.S. after bringing Latin sounds to his home in Canada.
Alex Cuba isn't a fan of labeling-especially when it comes to describing his own music. His influences range from Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles to Michael Jackson and traditional music from the island of Cuba, where he was born.
On a recent sunny afternoon near a swimming pool at a West Hollywood hotel, Cuba made his musical declaration: "Three words describe my music-Cuban soul rock."
Born Alexis Puentes, the artist learned how to play music from his father, leaving his homeland in 1999 for Canada where he married, had children and continued writing songs. During the next few years, Cuba developed his craft and eventually some Canadian radio stations played his music, despite being sung in Spanish in a country where the Latin music scene is virtually nonexistent.
As he grew musically, Cuba realized that finding a label was a challenge because executives weren't sure in which genre to place him. After releasing music on a small label, in 2005 Cuba and his business manager/wife, Sarah Goodacre, decided to launch their own record label.
"I just got tired of waiting," Cuba says. "The creation of Caracol Records was to hold my masters, my rights and my music."
More than a dozen years after moving to Canada, the still-independent artist is finding new ways of expanding his career during a time when the entire music industry is struggling. He's well-poised for the challenge. In 2010, Cuba won a Latin Grammy Award for best new artist, and last year his self-titled album was nominated for best Latin pop album at the mainstream Grammys.
Cuba has also won two Juno Awards, and says his worldwide sales stand at 18,000.
As he prepares to release a new album, he'll tour throughout Canada in October and also head to Europe to open three shows for Colombian singer Juanes. Nelly Furtado, whose 2009 album "Mi Plan" Cuba largely co-wrote (including the Hot Latin Songs No. 1 "Manos Al Aire"), will make a guest appearance on his upcoming album, "Ruido en el Sistema" ("Static in the System"). He has also worked with Luis Enrique and Noel Schajris.
Darcy Gregoire of the Agency Group in Toronto says Cuba's music isn't easy to define, but ultimately that's a plus in today's cookie-cutter market.
"The beautiful thing about Alex's music is that it can't pigeonhole him," Gregoire says. "He plays rock-pop fusion with Cuban influences, but ultimately you can't really put your finger on it. It's fresh."
The album's first single, "Eres Tu" ("You Are"), has been released in English and Spanish in Germany and the United States. His former manager didn't approve of Cuba singing in English and due to creative differences, they went their separate ways in January. Cuba says he doesn't feel he has to sing exclusively in Spanish, especially when his influences go beyond the music of his homeland.
That said, Cuba is already planning his next project. He wants to return to Cuba and record an album he's tentatively calling Alex Cuba and the Cuban Experience. After being away from the Cuban scene, he wants to return to create music in his native country.
"It's the right move," says Cuba, who's currently managing himself. "It would be a good way of going back to my roots."
As for signing with a major label, Cuba says the notion has new meaning today.
"I don't know if I'd go for a label," he says. "I wouldn't turn down licensing my albums, that sort of thing. But that's me wearing my business hat, and the goal is to balance that with the creative side."