Sublime: the transhumant poetry of Alex Cuba

I had never heard Alex Cuba (Artemis, 1974). I knew something about his life outside the Island (more than twenty years in Canada) and his six previous albums (some awarded with the Juno or the Latin Grammy), but I confess that I had not stopped at work. Maybe it was his name or the idea - that I don't know where it came from - that his music was too pop for my tastes. So I was lost until one night, near dawn, a friend wrote to me, whispering almost, as only a music lover can do it: "You have to listen to the latest Alex Cuba, it has very nice songs." Well, I promised him, yes, I would try.

A few weeks later, I decide to write, totally convinced already, about which I consider one of the best albums of Cuban music (wherever I am) in 2019. My fixation with Sublime Sublime (Caracol Records, 2019) is based on an unmissable collection of 12 songs in which its author produces and plays all instruments.

Cover of the album Sublime, by Alex Cuba. Original art by Erin Candela, cover designed by Simon Evers.

Before becoming a singer-songwriter, Alex Cuba was essentially a bassist, remembered on the Island for playing with people like singer Augusto Enriquez or the jazz fusion group Temperamento. And as a bassist, Yo no sé: un contrabajo Jazzeao double bass and with tumbao in the center of the song, minor percussions, vocals, a total acoustic sound, as minimalist as Cuban (Cuban and minimalist). And above all that, the poetry of simple words that connect beautifully with each other. Believe me, it is almost mystical to hear how a song so simple in appearance gets so many resonances and makes you dance.

The party continues with Cantando de alegría, which contextualizes the positive energy that goes through the entire album. The alleged correspondence between Alex and an English-speaking person who listened to his music establishes a dialogue about the importance of placing feelings first, in a world where selfishness prevails: Yo quiero decirle que cambié / su canto me dio fe en una madrugada / que me desvelé de inocente / al tocar la radio solo hallé / la sinfonía del temor /sin piedad / sin perdón / empujando tanto / tanta desilusión… 

When the voices of a generation that launched the Cuban song to the 21st century (Gema and Pavel through) were unfolded in the late 1990s, we thought it would be forever, that it would only grow. But time passed, and that searching spirit has discontinued the lack of creativity and some accommodation in their managers. However, in the ten days that it took Alex Cuba the recording of Sublime, he went through Havana to sing a duet with Kelvis Ochoa. I do not know how to explain it, but Ciudad hembra (despite that sexist look of a "female Havana" without reins that devours everything) recovers that trail of swing, irony and permanent imagination that seemed to have been left behind. Kelvis's phrasing managed to excite me. Can you ask for more?

At the height of the fourth track of the album, Alex Cuba lowers the tone to dive into a much more intimate string. He does it with the softness of his voice, without great poetic games or stridency. It can be moving that Voz de corazones has something of that connection of the New Trova with the utopia: Presiento que este mundo y este tiempo / necesita humanidad, / que habita en las luces de los sueños, / del amor y la verdad…

Ah, Silvana Estrada. Another guest of Alex Cuba is a Mexican singer and songwriter who sings like a psychedelic chavela of the 21st century. Someone who has collaborated with artists like Caloncho or Mon Laferte comes to give the album an even more Latin and universal nuance in Dividido. The same goes for Solo mía, in which Alex invites Leonel García, another Mexican with a delicate voice and a long career as a musician. It is worth mentioning his work as founder of the pop group Sin Bandera or as the producer of the monumental album Hasta la raíz, by Natalia Lafourcade. Or even in the melancholic No son manera, where the renowned Dominican singer-songwriter Alex Ferreira collaborates. The truth is that seen as a whole I would love that someone decided to defend these three issues on the radio of our country, as signs that Cuban music also knows how to insert itself in the international circuits of alternative pop these days.

Other Sublime themes Sublime show Alex Cuba's ductility to move between several waters and make good songs. The same for dancing, making love or cradling nostalgia. There are two pieces like Esta situación and De los dos, and one more energetic titled Las mujeres, which during the rise of global feminisms works as a nod to another way of understanding masculinities: I have grown tired of mastering that brutal force that he is not intelligent / a lot of people give darkness ...

However, it is about closing when the composer is going to play another league with two even rounder Y si mañana is a beautiful reminiscence of the traditional trova that sounds like an instant classic. I confess that from the avalanche of Omara Portuondo collaborations in recent years, this is one of my favorites: her voice sounds very pure as if already traveling in immortality.

As the last surprise comes Hoy como ayer, with the great Pablo Milanés. It is something premeditated: a blow of beauty such that you could dislodge your soul. If there is any doubt about the sublime that this album proposes, we just need to get verses like these, shoes on an accomplice guitar: Hoy como ayer / se nos rinde el miedo / cuando desnudamos la felicidad / en cada momento / Hoy como ayer / y quizás mañana / quedarán palabras para enamorar nuestros sentimientos / Y vuelvo a amar así / sin esconder quien soy… 

 

 

Alex CubaKelvis OchoaLeonel GarcíaOmara PortuondoPablo MilanésReviewsSilvana EstradaSublime
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