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Catching up with Alex Cuba and Playing for Change

This year’s 33rd Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival had many greatartists, one being Alex Cuba, who now lives in Smithers, B.C.

This year’s 33rd Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival had many great artists, one being Alex Cuba, who now lives in Smithers, B.C. Those who were lucky to catch one of his workshops or concerts during the three-day festival got a chance to see him as an independent artist, as well as a duo playing with his father, Valentin Puentes.

Metro Vancouver caught up with Alex Cuba as he was finishing one of his workshops.

Q: Is this your first time playing at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival?

A: Yes, and no. In 2001 I was playing with a different band, and we had an opportunity to play on the main stage. But as Alex Cuba it was my first time.

Q: You got to play in the Father and Son Workshop on Saturday. How was the experience getting to play with your father, Valentin Puentes?
A: It was fun … It’s always a privilege to play with my dad. I can relate to other musicians that get to do it. It’s a treat really because you don’t know if you’ll get to do it again. I have two different musical brains. I have developed in Canada a full, strong musical identity that isn’t necessarily traditional Cuban music, whereas it is more traditional Cuban music with my dad.

Q: How would you describe the type of music you are creating as an individual?
A: My music is what it is. I am delivering a seed of a tree that is half mango, half apple. What that means is it will grow in Cuba and grow in Vancouver. My music just appeals. Most of my audience don’t speak Spanish, but they love my music. It is somebody that doesn’t care about where I come from in order to believe where I am going to. That’s why I’m collaborating with others. Main stream musicians in Canada see me differently.

Q: You are also a Juno Award-winning artist. How was that experience?
A: My first album and second album both won Junos. My third one was only nominated. I actually learned a lot. Both were great. I won both awards while I kept myself in the genre World Music in Canada. The third album I was pushing the limit, and not winning was simple an eye opener. I’m going to make Spanish music that isn’t in English and that isn’t popular in Canada. I’m hoping they have a hard time categorizing my music. I’m not sure what they’re going to call it.

Playing for Change:

Playing for Change, which gained recognition for their rendition of Stand By Me on You Tube, began with American filmmaker, Mark Johnson’s, inspiration of the ability to bring peace through music through the collaboration of artists from around the world.

Metro Vancouver got a chance to catch up with Playing For Change cofounder, Mark Johnson, and Grandpa Elliot.

Metro: Playing For Change seems to have become a You Tube phenomenon with your rendition of Stand By Me. Was that your intention when you started this project?
Mark Johnson: [Playing For Change] was always designed to be a film. Stand By Me, War Over Trouble … they were song bridges on how we’re all the same around the world. You can tell stories in so many different formats. You can reach so many people from around all around the world. The internet is the reason it was opened up to so much of the public.

Metro: Grandpa Elliot, how would you describe the experience of singing to such a large crowd at the Folk Festival on Saturday’s main stage?

Grandpa Elliot: Beautiful. I love to work and sing to people. I can feel everybody who’s there. I live to entertain you.

Mark Johnson: He can’t see the people, but he can feel the people. Music is in their blood and connecting with other people. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or a million - you get to connect with them.

Metro: Grandpa what is your favorite song to perform on stage?

Mark Johnson: Great question – I’ll make sure not to cut it out of the set.

Grandpa Elliot: Stand By Me, Sugar is Sweet…

Metro: What do you think is the next step for Playing For Change?
Grandpa Elliot: I’m going to be with this project until the end, no matter what happens. I love the guys, I love what they do, I love how they handle me…

Mark Johnson: Grandpa has so much soul that it’s infectious.

Metro: Lastly, how do you like Vancouver from what you’ve seen and experienced so far?
Mark Johnson: It’s one of my favourite cities.

Grandpa Elliot: I wish I could see the beauty that my ears hear … hear the goodness and hear the people’s hearts.

More about the band at www.playingforchange.com.

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