“There’s a lot of power in simplicity.”
Such is the philosophy of Cuban-born, Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Cuba (@iamalexcuba) –– though that hasn’t always been the case. “At the beginning, I wanted to bring windows down with my music,” he says. “I’ve realized that the other side is as powerful, if not more powerful.”
Alex learned to play music as a child in the town of Artemisa, about an hour north of Havana. His father was a guitar teacher at a cultural center across the street from their home. After school, Alex would spend afternoons listening to people play. He soon began recording on his own, infusing his work with poetry and messages of peace. His songs, which he sings mostly in Spanish but sometimes in English, often touch on the power of love and always portray his excitement about music as a medium.
“I write a song and I can’t wait; I just do a little clip and put it on social media,” he says, about the intimate solo videos he shares with fans. “I don’t like to feel any disconnection between the way that I give my art and music to people and how they see me.”
Alex recently brought that message of honesty and self-confidence to struggling songwriters in his home country, as part of an upcoming documentary The Cuban Bus. There he found Cuba in the midst of a transition, one he hopes will free his people from economic oppression. Now more than ever, Alex says, it’s important to encourage the country’s strong cultural traditions.
“One thing that you can see in musicians right away is that when we were asking them to play a song, they were playing what they thought we wanted to hear,” he says. “They go into this survival mode of catering for tourists or whatever, and I’m like, ‘No, no. Play me the song you hate of yours, the one you hate the most, the one you think is not a good one. I want to hear that one.’ And it was often the best one.”
Just as Cubans fight to keep their traditions alive, Alex is working to open doors for Spanish-speaking musicians in his current home of Canada, as well as the United States. He was recently honored as the only Latin artist to participate in Canada’s annual JUNO Songwriters’ Circle. He also just wrapped a North American tour and is about ready to get back in the studio, perhaps for an acoustic album — and more in the vein of his little clips.
“A lot of artists are afraid of [playing acoustic], because that is complete nakedness,” he says. “I know that I’m taking the road less traveled at this moment in time, but it’s rewarding. I feel complete, I feel aligned with my spirit and that is the most beautiful thing for a human being. It’s the only way to exist.”
––Kat Bein for Instagram @music