A really unusual Cuban-born touring artist will chase away the Thanksgiving week doldrums at the Berkeley Cafe: singer/songwriter Alex Cuba, just awarded Best New Artist Latin Grammy.
Here's the link to my writeup in the INDY for Alex Cuba's appearance at the Berkeley Cafe this Tuesday (11/23); see also the N&O feature on Alex Cuba.
I first came to know Alexis Puentes [aka "Alex Cuba"] via the Puentes Brothers' Morumba Cubana, a rootsy little album of Cuban son that turned up one day at the radio station WXDU around 2004. Canadian emigres, the brothers Alex and Adonis Puentes were doing fun, original material that draws not only on traditional Cuban son, but trova, the native Cuban and Latin American tradition of folk. I seem to recall some American swing mixed in there as well. This album fell into the "pleasant surprise" category.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that Alex and Adonis--now on quite different solo paths, are actually (fraternal) twins. There's enough difference in their look, sound, and personal style that this never hit me as obvious. Naturally, there's a great resonance between them, too.
Adonis blew me away with his shrewdly cynical, yet bumpin' dance tune "Commerciante" on his 2005 solo album Vida. With the coro, "yo no soy músico, soy comerciante (I'm not a musician, I'm a businessman)," the song is both a resignation to, and a protest of, the pressure on artists to produce "hits." Adonis' sound is much more traditionally Cuban, informed by newer dance grooves of timba and salsa but hewing close to the acoustic aesthetic of traditional son. His vocal style reminds me of elegant, jazzy sonero Issac Delgado. Adonis was tapped as a vocalist recently, along with Ruben Blades, for the Lincoln Center free revival concert of Larry Harlow's La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite.
I would have pegged Alex for the younger brother, because his style, both audio and visual, is much more contemporary and fused with urban and pop fashion. Whereas the cleanshaven Adonis strikes me as a plainspoken craftsmen, Alex, with his trademark fro and arching sideburns, cuts the figure of a flamboyant hipster. Both of them have the songwriting knack and a strong, clear voice. Trova is generally written in a much more personal first-person voice than son, so in a way this is a good starting point for pop fusions, something Alex in his solo career has exploited well.
I really liked Alex's last album, Agua del Pozo, because it congenially strayed from Cuban tradition without falling into a generic Latin pop sound. The new one, self-titled, I've only heard on the website, and while it sounds a little poppier to me than the last one, I can't give it a full review yet. If it's any indication of which direction he's going musically, Alex also helped craft Nelly Furtado's first Spanish-language album, Mi Plan, which also one a Latin Grammy this year.
Alex plays a mean Gibson, and I'm curious to see what the touring band sounds like, and how much of the show will be acoustic vs. electric.
Alex Cuba @ Berkeley Cafe this Tuesday (venue link)
Alex Cuba (artist website)