Alex Cuba: Cuban Soul That Runs In The Family Alex Cuba, who hails from the Caribbean nation, performs a song from his album, Agua del Pozo.
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Alex Cuba: Cuban Soul That Runs In The Family

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Alex Cuba: Cuban Soul That Runs In The Family

(Soundbite of song, "Fiesta Religion")

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Musician, Alexis Puentes has been in the family business since the age of four. That's when he joined his dad and a group of 24 guitarists in a performance aired on Cuban National TV. His father, respected guitarist and teacher Valentin Puentes, was so particular about his children's musical education that he controlled the music Alexis listened to.

Alexis Puentes now goes by the name Alex Cuba. In his music, you can hear how he's blended his father's musical influence, and stories from the Cuban countryside with a touch of '70s soul.

(Soundbite of song, "Fiesta Religion")

Mr. ALEX CUBA (Musician, Singer/Songwriter): (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: Alex Cuba's new CD is called "Agua del Pozo," and that translates as "Well Water." It's just been released in the United States on the Caracol label, and Alex Cuba is here with his guitar in NPR Studio 4A. Welcome. What a treat to meet you.

Mr. CUBA: Nice to meet you, Liane.

HANSEN: The clip that we played was from your song "Fiesta Religion," which is translated as "Religious Celebration." And in it - because you do offer English translations of your songs on the liner notes - you evoke the gods Chango and Elegua. What do they mean to you? Who are they?

Mr. CUBA: They belong to the Diaspora of Afro-Cuban religion, as one of the many names that it's being called. One of them is Santeria; I think is the one that people seem to know the most. Chango, for example, is the god of the thunder. And Elegua is the god of the good fortune, the door opener, you know. But through music, you know, I was exposed to all of that since I was born.

HANSEN: Well, youre going to play a song for us and it's called "Vampiro."

Mr. CUBA: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Which means vampire.

Mr. CUBA: It's, I believe, it's my favorite song on the album.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. CUBA: And its due to the, I don't know, the uniqueness of the poetry. Actually that was Ruben Blades. I don't know if you...

HANSEN: Oh, sure.

Mr. CUBA: It was his pick, you know, from my album. He thought it was beautiful song. He called it very original and, to him, very Cuban, still.

HANSEN: And you'll be singing in Spanish.

Mr. CUBA: Yes, it's in Spanish. As I always say in my shows, you know, if you dont speak Spanish, you know, chances are you'll be singing anyway.

HANSEN: Heres Alex Cuba with "Vampiro."

(Soundbite of song, "Vampiro")

Mr. CUBA: (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: "Vampiro" performed by Alex Cuba in Studio 4A.

Boy, that's pretty happy music for someone who has been turned into a vampire of love by his girlfriend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Usually we expect something a little bit more moody. That laid back sound though, it's not - I mean if I were to say Cuban musician, I think the thing that would come to people's minds would be - and you have this on your CD - which is brass instruments...

Mr. CUBA: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...and the drums and bongos. But you have soul influences. Our listeners can't see you, but you have a wonderful afro...

Mr. CUBA: Oh, thank you.

HANSEN: ...circa '70s with some Sly Stone...

Mr. CUBA: Sideburns.

HANSEN: ...sideburns. Thank you. So what kind of soul music did you listen to and who were the songwriters you admired?

Mr. CUBA: When I was around 10 years old, I discovered, of course, Michael Jackson. From there, I moved to the electric bass when I was 14. And through the electric bass, I discovered American music, you know, jazz, funk. One of the voices that I remember really impacting me was Ray Charles.

HANSEN: Yes.

Mr. CUBA: I didnt have a clue what he was singing about, right? But I guess today I can say that it was the soul quality. I started writing songs and then I was calling my dad to listen to them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CUBA: And my dad would say, "Oh, I love where youre going with the poetry" and stuff like. You know, change this word for another one, but dont sing my dear, because you dont have a voice of a singer.

What he was meaning is that most likely you are to find in Cuba, you know, voices that as bright as a horn, you know? To be able to command a 16-piece band or some like that, right? I dont know. I dont even remember how and how it happened, but I started singing. And from the moment I opened my mouth, people loved it. They say, you know what? We have a singer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Youre going to play another tune for us. This is one that is called "Si Pero No."

Mr. CUBA: "Yes But No."

HANSEN: "Yes But No."

Mr. CUBA: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Okay.

Mr. CUBA: You can imagine the rest.

HANSEN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of "Si Pero No")

Mr. CUBA: (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: "Si Pero No" performed by Alex Cuba in Studio 4A. You have a twin brother?

Mr. CUBA: I do.

HANSEN: Is his name Adonis?

Mr. CUBA: Yes.

HANSEN: Yes. And he's a salsa singer.

Mr. CUBA: He is, yeah.

HANSEN: Do you collaborate with one another?

Mr. CUBA: Yeah, for some of the first song I play, "Vampiro" is written by Adonis.

HANSEN: Oh.

Mr. CUBA: Yeah.

HANSEN: How does your dad feel about your career now? I mean youre singing for money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CUBA: Oh, not only for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: No. No. No. For love. For love. We know its all for love.

Mr. CUBA: Well, I had the pleasure to say: Dad, what do you think or what do you think of my singing, you know? And he said, well, my son, the way you sing today is very beautiful. It's like you touch my heart every time I hear it. And I said you know what? That what you hear in that is no my voice, it's my heart because I dont go by any norm - by any Cuban norm of what is to sing, you know. So if I'm touching your heart, you know, I think I am the best singer, you know, that you could ever hear.

HANSEN: And he loves the voice.

Mr. CUBA: Now he's my biggest fan.

HANSEN: Alex Cuba in NPR Studio 4A. His new CD is "Agua del Pozo" out on Caracol Records. Our thanks to Studio 4A engineer Neil Tevault.

To hear songs from Alex Cuba's in studio visit and to watch a video of his performance, you can visit our Web site, nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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