Alex Cuba follows up Grammy-nominated Healer with

Alex Cuba photo

For a hi-rez image, right click the photo and select “save target as” or your browser’s equivalent.

Mounting expectations brought by multiple Grammy nods and significant global recognition can easily pressure an artist into making a creative misstep – a move driven by momentary disconnection from one’s muse.

For Smithers-based Cuban-Canadian artist Alex Cuba, earning his second career Grammy nod for his 2015 album Healer – along with a 2015 Latin Grammy for Best Singer-Songwriter Album – has had precisely the opposite effect.

Possessed of a new level of confidence that comes from having proven oneself among one’s peers, Alex is opening himself up like never before on his new album, Lo Único Constante (the one constant), taking new creative risks and mining for inspiration his earliest musical influences from his childhood in Cuba.

It’s an album that easily surpasses Healer as his finest to date, an album of spacious acoustic roots that places Alex’s smooth, soulful Cuban espresso vocals front and centre, evoking a carefree day in the sunny streets of Havana.

Chief among the influences on this album is filin (derived from the English word “feeling”), a movement that emerged in the 1940s, popularized by acts such as César Portillo de la Luz, Jose Antonio Mendez, and Omara Portuondo (to name a few), which draws inspiration from guitar-based Cuban roots styles such as trova and American jazz and soul.  Its mellifluous melodies, stirring harmonies, and meticulous song-craft are showcased throughout Lo Único Constante, notably on the first single, “Todas Las Cabezas Están Locas,” released Friday.

Recorded in Montreal with producer Jean Massicotte, the song opens with Alex crooning in heartfelt tones over gentle acoustic guitar, before Les Triplettes de Belleville soundtrack composer Benoit Charest jumps in with some gentle gypsy jazz licks. Brazilian-born vocalist Bia offers some sultry back-up singing leading up to rhythmic choruses, accentuated by layered vocals and joyful hand claps.

Alex shows off his roots in a whole different way on “Chekere,” a song about the spiritual properties of shakers.  Its tribal-like rhythms come courtesy of the Abakuá drums, a percussion instrument that pre-dates the conga and belongs to a Cuban secret society.

“Piedad de Mi” sees Alex riffing on tradition in yet another unique manner.  Having imagined the song with a traditional Cuban horn section, he recorded some vocalizations to sketch out the brass arrangement.  He then realized the vocalizations sounded far more interesting and original than horns, so the piece was reborn as a quasi a cappella track.

Alex’s risk-taking on Lo Único Constante also extends to the recording process.  In addition to travelling to Montreal to work with Massicotte, he produced Emilio Del Monte Jr.’s percussion parts for the album remotely via Facetime, while Del Monte laid them down in Miami.  And he journeyed to Madrid’s Musigrama to record the flamenco-flavoured “Lágrimas Del Que Llora” with Josemi Carmona, heir to the flamenco dynasty, the Carmonas of Jerez.   A former member of the groundbreaking flamenco fusion group Ketama, which raised the ire of purists when it debuted in the 80s, Carmona is now widely considered one of the greatest flamenco/jazz guitarists working today.

Long-time collaborator Joby Baker co-produced the rest of Lo Único Constante at Victoria’s Baker Studios and succeeded, along with Alex, in incorporating the remote sessions into a beautiful, cohesive package.

The theme of the album is change, as the one constant in life, and it’s a fitting motif for an artist that’s been on a non-stop creative evolution ever since launching his solo debut in 2004 – and who has revolutionized Cuban music with each new step in his artistic process.

After following love to Canada in 1999, Alex settled in the unlikely locale of Smithers, B.C., 14 hours north of Vancouver, and basked in the creative freedom his new homeland afforded him to deconstruct Cuban musical tradition.

His Juno-winning first two albums focused on retrieving the soul of Cuban music out from under its famous complexity.   With his third, self-title recording, he incorporated influences from American rock, funk and soul, earning a Grammy nod and a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist.  Ruido En El Sistema saw him dialing back the melodic complexity of his tunes, creating infectious pop hooks like never before.  And Healer brought the best his previous work together in one stunning, cohesive package that revealed his romantic, introspective and spiritual sides.

Lo Único Constante shares all of Healer’s hallmarks:  captivating melodies, inventive hybrids of Spanish and American influences, introspection, vulnerability, and performances drenched in soul – but this time, there’s an added earthiness brought about by the music’s grounding in classic Cuban-American sounds.

For Alex, the growing collection of awards and accolades, the requests to collaborate with the world’s top Latin stars, the prestigious concerts such as the Hollywood Bowl (where he opened for Sheryl Crow) and the growing number of other career opportunities – such as the offer to host a documentary on emerging Cuban music – have all vindicated his decision to embrace his creative instincts.

And that makes Lo Único Constante his most confident and compelling album to date.

Leave a Reply