Alex Cuba is excited to talk about his White Sofa Sessions.
The Smithers-based, Cuban-born musician first created the weekly web series as a thank-you to fans in Argentina who demanded that a local radio station play his music. DJs there fell for the tracks, hyped the debut of his song then, finally, aired it. "It was the first time something like that happened to me," Cuba (who was born with the name Alex Puentes) says over the phone from Smithers, where he's been home for less than 24 hours after a month of extensive touring. "Usually you have to promote it and do it professionally. My music migrated down to South America."
The first in his series — recorded on his white namesake couch — was an acoustic version of one of his songs, which he dedicated to his new followers. "I was excited to hear the song on the radio and I decided to do it as a sign of gratefulness," he says. "I asked my daughter to film me playing a bit of the song, a verse and chorus, and we put it up on YouTube and sent them the link."
He got a good reaction and enjoyed the connection with his fans, so he decided to keep it up with the goal of posting a new video every Friday for a year. His 10-year-old daughter edits the footage, which he'll send in from wherever in the world he happens to be. That can be tricky, considering how much Cuba travels.
"I'll be looking for Internet at 3 a.m. having to get a flight in the morning," he says with a laugh. "But it's worth it. It keeps it real. I like what it gets out of people."
Cuba's career trajectory has been unlike any other in this country. He grew up in Cuba as a bass player learning to perform every style of music, an experience that shapes his eclectic style today. He fell in love with a Canadian woman, married her 18 years ago and has called Canada home ever since.
Playing upbeat, Latin-infused pop (which has earned him both a Juno and a Latin Grammy) with lyrics that are mostly in Spanish, but sometimes in English, Cuba is in a category entirely his own. "I have created a hybrid of music that is unique to Canada, but I'm happy to say that it's also unique to Cuba," he says. "I've had a vision since day number one of creating the kind of music that goes beyond language, beyond culture. How have I done that? By not focusing on any niche. By focusing on creating."
On top of his unique sound, Cuba also chose a strange place for a touring musician to call home. Smithers is a town in northern B.C. with a population just over 5,000 and no nearby international airport. "It makes it more challenging, but I think most people have a different perception of what it is to be an artist," he says. "People think if you want to be an artist, to be famous, you have to live in a city. And they're probably right about that. But the part people don't (understand) is the musicians who travel to play a theatre, you buy a ticket to see them, those musicians don't play anywhere else when they're on the road. If you live in a city you end up playing weekly shows.... They're two different types of musicians."
And then there's the Internet. Cuba has collaborated, most famously with fellow B.C. musician Nelly Furtado, co-writing over half the tracks on one of her albums. He also writes with several other musicians, often over Skype. "From here, I'm working all over the world," he says.
He still has a bit of a journey to get to Whistler, where he'll play a free show at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Sunday. The weather wasn't great when he played the same Whistler Presents Concert Series last year, but he promises to bring the sun (for which, he likes to joke, he charges extra).
Cuba is constantly booked at summer festivals, presumably in part because he's particularly adept at rousing crowds to their feet. "I think festival bookers feel I'm a good fit because they bring me back," he says. "Whistler is one of them because we played last year. Besides that, I love playing outdoors. It's a good time to play for people that don't necessarily know who you are and it expands your audience.... I'm hoping the sun is on our side. I have a pretty good reputation everywhere I play; whenever it's raining and I'm playing, the sun comes out."