Tag Archives: Gordon Lightfoot

Latin Grammy Winner Alex Cuba Headlines Weekend at Blue Mountain Village

On Saturday August 4th at 8:30pm Blue Mountain Village brings Latin Grammy and Juno Award Winner Alex Cuba to the Coca-Cola Village Stage, headlining the weekend’s Mosaic World Music Festival.

A musician since the age of four, Alex Cuba has in his veins the music of that tropical island whose name he has appropriated for the stage.  But his music is uniquely Canadian in spirit.

His Cuban music roots run deep. Seminal Cuban artists like Matamoros, el Benny and Compay Segundo filled his ears from infancy.   He played in his father’s ensemble of 24 guitarists alongside his twin brother Adonis Puentes, (who will be at Summerfolk this August), appeared as a teen on Cuban national TV, won a songwriting competition at the age of eighteen.

After studying electric and standup bass, he toured Cuba and internationally.  He was on a tour of Canada when he fell in love with a Canadian girl, Sarah Goodacre, daughter of a B.C. politician.  She returned with him to Cuba and they were married.  Later they emigrated to Canada, so that he could “creatively spread his wings” and to be close to Sarah’s’s family in Smithers, B. C.

In Smithers, he and his wife created an independent label Caracol Records, to distribute Alex’s music.  Working on their own, Alex and Sarah have built his career and a following in the Spanish-speaking world.  In Cuba, his music is not heard, in keeping with that country’s total rejection of artists who leave to find success elsewhere, abandoning the revolution.  Like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente before him, international success excludes the country of his birth.  Likewise in the U.S. labels still avoid Cuban artists, both in the aftermath of a longstanding blockade of trade between the countries and in anticipation of more of the same from the Trump administration.  He succeeds in spite of these drawbacks because what he offers has a distinctive difference.

Alex’s brother came to Canada as well and under the name the Puentes Brothers they made a great first impression on the Canadian music scene, picking up a Juno nomination nomination in 2001 for their first recording.  In 2004 they diverged into separate recording careers in Canada, but they continue to write together.

Not long after embarking on a solo career, Alex Cuba’s recordings on 2006 and 2008 won him Junos  for World Music Album of the Year.  Working from a Canadian base his music has had an impact on the Latin music world. He won Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards, where his third album, self-titled, was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album.  In 2011 he won a BMI Latin Award for his songwriting on Nelly Furtado’s #1 Spanish hit “Manos Al Aire” to which he contributed on more than half the songs.  In 2012, Alex received his second Socan Hagood Hardy Award for outstanding achievement in Jazz and World Music. And he continued to win Latin Grammies with every new release.

In 2016, his Latin Grammy win was as a singer-songwriter rather than for World Music, for an album which included duets with several Canadian artists, including Ron Sexsmith, David Myles, Alejandra Ribera and Kuba Oms.   His Canadian take on Latin music substitutes beautiful vocal harmonies and guitars for the horn riffs in the style of Beny Moré that normally punctuate Cuban music.  “Lo Mismo Que Yo,” his intoxicating duet with Sexsmith, became a hit in the UK Singles Chart, reaching #52.

Alex is aware that he sounds different from other Latin artists and he attributes that to his “Canadian identity”.

“I became a singer-songwriter, a producer, a musician in Canada. Canada has given me an identity,” he told Georgia Strait, “My music was made in Canada. No Latin artist in the Latin world can sound like me, because they don’t have this Canadian side that I have. They don’t have the situations, the inspirations, et cetera, that I have found in this country.”

Part of the Canadian influence on his sound is the guitar-oriented narrative tradition in Canada evolving from artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn to bands like The Tragically Hip.  Another part is the wilderness surrounding Smithers, where he has lived for fifteen years, which he credits with giving his music a more open and airy feel, and ensuring his themes have universal appeal.

“In Cuba,” he went on to tell Georgia Strait, “sometimes it’s all about the rhythm; it’s all about making you move, physically. But Canada, it’s different. It’s about making you move mentally, maybe making you move spiritually. You know what I mean? That inspired me to create that way, to incorporate that into my music—to pay more attention to the way I craft my music, my melodies, how many instruments I have on an album, et cetera, et cetera. It has given me a sound.”

Ironically many Canadians won’t understand his narratives because they don’t understand Spanish.  His music has a spiritual and rhythmic beauty that can be enjoyed even by someone who doesn’t understand the words, but like other Canadian artists, he has something important to say.  He cares about his lyrics.

It is special to him when he gets a chance to perform for “people that understand Spanish, that understand the power of my words,” he continues. “This has been happening for me in Mexico, as well. I’ve been playing solo shows down there; the last one I did, I played for 2,000 people on my own, and it was unbelievable—all those people singing my songs. I felt like a kid, you know? Like I wanted to play nonstop for four hours. It was beautiful!”

The Alex Cuba concert is the highlight of a weekend of world music at Blue Mountain Village that includes Bamkanda Drumming, Greek Dancing lessons, belly dancing, and the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, along with some great rock and roll from Sean Pinchin, The Summit Band and Alysha Brilla.

 It’s all free!

Bring An Open Heart To The Andrea Ramolo Concert

Andrea Ramolo will be coming to Owen Sound next weekend for two purposes.  On Saturday night, April 1st, she will be playing at Heartwood Concert Hall to promote her latest album, “Nuda”, on a double bill with Jenie Thai.  The following day, on Sunday afternoon, she will be hosting the latest in the Music Biz Tune Up series that’s been put together by Summerfolk to provide music business advice to local musicians.

The music of Andrea Ramolo, particularly on this latest release, is exceptionally personal and intimate.  She allows herself to explore openly the most vulnerable aspects of her life through her art.  As she has said in a press release, “It was written during an exceptionally dark time where I was painfully shedding pieces of who I thought I was — as an artist, as a lover, as a woman. I wanted the project to unabashedly expose that process; that battle with ego and identification in an attempt to just be, to reveal all my cuts and bruises in this process of becoming.”

Jim Barber, in Music Life Magazine, called the album “a compelling, emotional and truly powerful statement by an artist unafraid to confront her own pain.”  It was produced by The Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins, who has provided her with the same understated and subtle sonic environment that contributed so much to the success of that band.

The extreme vulnerability of her work raises the question of how it will play in Heartwood.  This is a great venue with excellent sound and good sight lines but audiences there have been criticized in the past for talking loudly through performances.  Will the audience on Friday night show enough respect for the artist to allow a full appreciation of what she is offering?

Andrea has been performing since 2003, originally as a dancer and has collaborated with Tom Wilson, a great admirer of Canadian talent, and shared the stage with sensitive performers like Gordon Lightfoot, Ron Sexsmith and Adam Cohen. In 2004, Andrea was cast in Disney’s made-for-TV movie Once Upon a Mattress, starring Carol Burnett and Tracy Ullman. She toured for more than five years with Cindy Doire as the duo Scarlett Jane, releasing two albums to add to the two solo albums she had aleady put out.

On Saturday night she will be sharing the stage with Jenie Thai, another exceptional artist whose command of the keyboard, expressive vocals and heartfelt, blues-based original songs are sure to command the attention of the audience.

When she meets on Sunday with local musicians, Andrea will be talking about the process of getting gigs, and working with a manager.  She will offer advice about finding opportunities, communicating with venues, and arranging performances. She’ll also answer questions about managers, why artists higher them, and when it makes sense to.  Live performance is usually the main source of revenue for most musicians and her advice is bound to be valuable.

The Music Biz Tune Up will run from 1-3pm on April 2nd at the Suite Spots on 2nd avenue in Owen Sound. Registration is $20 but participants who register for the entire 7-part series will receive a 25% discount. Participating musicians can register online at www.summerfolk.org/musicbiztuneup or at the door.

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For The Love of Music

The Meaford Hall Gallery Concert Series has been an outstanding success with every show bringing an artist that has something very special to offer, with the rare opportunity to enjoy them in a small intimate venue.  Sound engineer Al Burnham has been there for each one to ensure that the high quality sound that we have come to expect from Meaford Hall provides the optimum setting for these talents.  Although local live music fans are looking forward to the reopening of the Opera House, just a month away when The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer appear on April 11, those who have been attending the Gallery Series still have two great shows to look forward to.

This coming Saturday it’s Wendell Ferguson, already sold out, and in a couple of weeks Rob Lutes will be here on April 1st.

Wendell Ferguson won the Guitar Player of the Year trophy at the Canadian Country Music Association awards so many consecutive years in a row that he asked them to stop nominating him. He received nominations for the CCMA Vocal Collaboration of the Year (1999), Album of the Year (2006) and was nominated for a JUNO award for Country Duo or Group in 1995 with Coda the West.  And finally in 2014, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.  He’s in demand as a session player and has toured with people like Shania Twain, The Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, and Gordon Lightfoot, to name just a few.  On top of his reputation as a stellar guitar player, he is also legendary for his humour and wit.  It’s no wonder the show has sold out.

How could it be that such an acclaimed performer would be snagged to play such a small venue?  The answer is the Irish Mountain connection.

The one name that almost every performer in the series has mentioned is Liz Scott, who has been running the Irish Mountain house concerts for sixteen years.  They know Meaford and are happy to come here to play because she has hosted them in the past.

Wendell Ferguson and Katherine Wheatley at Irish Mountain House Concert

“The hall was looking for people who are good with small crowds,” she says, “so I was happy to help.  Wendall was at my very first house concert, with Katherine Wheatley, and they’ve both been back several times.”

The Irish Mountain House Concerts were inspired way back in 2000 when Liz heard an interview on CBC radio with a Sarnia couple who was setting up concerts at their home, usually with a break-even or negative cash flow, to give acoustic artists a place to perform, motivated by the love of music.

“I was already interested in live music,” says Liz, “I promoted some events in high school for the Student Council.  We have the space for it and I love having people in our house.”  Since then she has hosted 125 concerts, many with artists who have become big names, but still love to return to play there.

She is part of what makes this area special, one of many who support local live music, giving the Southern Georgian Bay area a reputation among musicians and music promoters that emanates well beyond our area.

Liz Scott with Suzie Vinnick, who kicked off the Gallery Series

“I happened to be talking to a music promoter down around Chatham,” she says, “and he asked me where I was from.  When I said Meaford, he said everybody knows about Meaford and the great music that happens all around the area.”  While Meaford Hall, which has a great reputation among touring performers, is a big part of that, there are also promoters who devote a lot of time and effort, usually with little or no financial gain, to bring great artists to the area.

“Part of the magic of our area is that we do it for the love of it.  The people here who promote music just kind of really love live music and bringing people together, building community.  For me these sixteen years have been a life-changing hobby, getting to know performers and meeting so many people from the community.  Everybody wins.”

Liz has branched out beyond her home to promote concerts at The Roxy in Owen Sound and at Meaford Hall.  She is contributing to the Grand Reopening Event at the beginning of May when she presents “An Intimate Evening with Sean McCann from Great Big Sea” at Meaford Hall on May 5th.

Although she has some performers booked for house concerts next September, and will probably set something up this spring, Liz has a busy summer ahead, working with Mariposa and heading to Newfoundland to help out with a short tour and a music festival arranged by Shawn Majumder in his home town of Burlington, Newfoundland.  Her love of music and hard work at bringing artists to our area has led to these additional opportunities to do what she enjoys.

While they clearly enrich her life, and present valuable opportunities for touring performers, the Irish Mountain House Concerts also enrich our community.  Although she has accumulated a big email list over the years she doesn’t specifically promote the house concerts.  But, she says, “they are open to anybody who loves music and wants to come.”

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