British Columbia·Video

Alex Cuba's Grammy nod sets B.C. hometown buzzing

There's a buzz in the snowy town of Smithers, B.C. these days — one with a distinctly Cuban feel. The northern community known for its mountains and ski hill is grooving to a Latin beat, thanks to local singer-songwriter Alex Cuba.

Award-winning artist up for best Latin pop album at next week's Grammy gala

Alex Cuba finds success in small-town B.C.

6 years ago
Duration 7:11
Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd -- they're all Canadians nominated for Grammies, but they're not the only northerners with that honour. Alex Cuba is a musician from Smithers, B.C. up for best Latin Pop album.

There's a buzz in the snowy town of Smithers, B.C. these days — one with a distinctly Cuban feel.

The northern B.C. community best-known for its stunning mountains and ski hill is grooving to a Latin beat, thanks to local singer-songwriter Alex Cuba.

Smithers, B.C.'s Alex Cuba is up for a 2016 Grammy Award next week in Los Angeles. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Cuba, whose real name is Alex Puentes, is set for what could be the biggest night of his career on Monday, when he'll be in Los Angeles attending the Grammy Awards. His latest album, Healer, is up for best Latin pop album, pitting Cuba against glossy superstars like Ricky Martin.

"People are incredibly excited," said Janet Walford, owner of Mountain Eagle Books, located just off the town's main street.

"He's putting out amazing music," said Walford, who noted there's been a run on Cuba's CDs and vinyl albums at her bookstore.

Healer, Alex Cuba's latest album, is a hot seller in the town of Smithers, where people have embraced his spicy Latin tunes. (Chris Corday/CBC)

From Artemisa to Smithers

"I look back at my life 18 years ago, and if someone were to say, this is going to happen, [I'd say] you're crazy, I don't believe that," said Cuba during a recent walk along Smithers' downtown, where a constant stream of people came up to shake his hand. 

"It feels like home and I love it," he said of the tight-knit community where he's lived since 2003.

Cuba, who has lived in Smithers since 2003, has become a popular and very recognizable community member. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Cuba's life took a turn in 1995, during a tour of Canada with his father's Cuban band. At a stop in Vancouver, the musician originally from Artemisa (located south west of Havana) met his future wife, Sarah, who was a student at Simon Fraser University.

The pair travelled together to the Caribbean island, where they got married later that year. They eventually returned to Canada and settled in her northern hometown of Smithers, population 6,000 and with an average January temperature hovering around –9 degrees.

Cuba, seen at right, writes and rehearses in the small garage behind his home. His band is composed of two other musicians from Smithers. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Rather than giving up his dream of a becoming a successful touring artist, Cuba carried on: recruiting local musicians and writing his music in the garage behind his home.

"There could be two feet of snow outside my window and I could be writing the hottest, grooviest song over here," he said.

Sarah behind the scenes

His wife, Sarah Puentes, says she's tried to stay in the background of her husband's blossoming career. She manages their independent record label, Caracol.

"The whole town has gotten behind him. They play his music — even if he doesn't sing in English — on the radio. It's beautiful," she said. 

Cuba says his wife, Sarah, has been the biggest influence on his career. (Chris Corday/CBC)

One of the most popular songs on Healer is Sarah, which Cuba wrote for his wife.

"Everywhere we go, people come up to me and sing it," she laughed. "Right on the red carpet, they run up and sing it to me. It's embarrassing!"

Cuba, previously nominated for a Grammy in 2010, has won two Latin Grammy trophies and two Juno Awards. Healer is also up for a Juno at this year's ceremony later this spring.

Win or lose at the Grammys gala on Monday, he has no plans to leave Smithers.

"I think if I lived in Miami with sunny days and everything, I'd be writing about snow!"

Cuba says the small mountain community of Smithers has become home, even though it's far-removed from the source of his musical genre. (Chris Corday/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Brown

Foreign Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s London bureau. Previously in Moscow, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.

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