Cuban singer-songwriter Alex Cuba has had a stellar year. Not only did he win a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist this past November, but just last month he also received a Grammy nod for Best Latin Pop Album. And even though he faces some stiff competition (Ricardo Arjona, Kany Garcia, Alejandro Sanz and Julieta Venegas are all nominated in the category), his soulful self-titled album is deserving of the accolade. We talked with the artist about his big nomination and his monster year:
Congrats on the Grammy nomination, what was your reaction when you heard the news?
I was blown away. I was spending the night in New Orleans on my way to Atlanta before finishing my tour in the U.S. I received a call from my wife and business partner and she said 'Honey, you are nominated for a Grammy.’ My band started screaming. They bought me a Corona right away.
Were you surprised?
I’m a member of the academy. The way the process works is that they do a round of votes. And of course, I voted for myself. I saw how many entries came in and I thought it was a long shot.
You collaborated with Nelly Furtado on her Spanish-language album debut Mi Plan. Did she call to congratulate you?
She didn’t notice until five or six days later, and then sent an email. She said ‘Congrats that’s amazing.’ I would’ve liked for her to be nominated, too.
How does your self-titled album reflect who you are and your personality?
With this album I have finally understood what my sound and my musical identity are. It’s like a portrait of who I am as a musician. Spiritually speaking, the album is very positive. It’s bright, happy, not in a cheesy way, in a way that will stick with you. It’s very conscious of what it’s supposed to do, which is make you feel good about yourself.
What is your sound?
My sound is a lot of variety. I don’t believe in one style. I choose to combine sounds and put them together. The gentleness and fragility of my melodies may seem simple, and if you’re a musician, that can fool you until you decide to play what I’m playing. I really pay attention to the music underneath the vocals. My music has a lot of condiments.
Is there one song in particular that you just love?
The opening track, “Directo,” is my favorite track. An incredible amount of magic happened in that song. It’s a short song but it has an incredible life of its own. There are songs that speed up time. You start listening to it and suddenly it’s over. When a song can do that, it’s because it has that magic.
In November you won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist, you’re having a good year.
Yes, my best year so far. My reaction was the same as a kid with a new toy. I was very excited. It was an incredible moment.
But you’ve been working steadily for years, from being in a band with your brother and going solo in 2003, what has been the biggest challenge in that time?
The challenge has been to make the Latin population open their minds to me as fast as its happening in the Anglo market. We tend to close our minds a bit and music tends to be a bit repetitive. Yes, I’m from Cuba, but I can also rock the universe.
Do you plan to keep sharing your magic with other artists?
I’m currently working with Luis Enrique, the salsa guy out of Miami. We’ve written 10 songs so far and we don’t stop writing. I think we’ll end up writing the whole album together. I’m also working with Noel Schajris from Sin Banderas. He’s an incredible singer. Very socially awake. We just wrote a song over Skype called “Vale Todo.”
What are your plans for the holidays?
It seems like I fool myself sometimes. I get this illusion that I will put my guitar down but I’m writing songs every day. I think it’s going to be a musical holiday.
The Grammy Awards will be broadcast live on February 13 at 8 p.m. (EST) on CBS.
Here he is singing “Directo.”