Tag Archives: Ron Sexsmith

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!

The Thursday Update – Oct. 12 to 16, 2017

Two new open stages are starting up in our area this weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, Amanda Dorey will be hosting an open stage at the Riverside Community Centre, and at Bridges Tavern in Thornbury, Josh Fletcher will be hosting an open stage on Friday starting at 8 pm.  These additions mean that aspiring performers and fans of the surprising grab bag that an open stage can be now have the opportunity to enjoy one every night of the week except Saturday and Monday.

In chronological order, the open stages nearby are The Barn Coop on Sunday at noon; Heartwood’s bi-monthly open mic Tuesday at 8; The granddaddy of all open jams at Ted’s Range Road Diner, and Bruce Wine Bar with Drew McIvor both on Wednesdays at 8; Chris Scerri at The Leeky Canoe Thursdays at nine; also on Thursdays, Dave Russell at The Corner Café and Craig Smith at CROW; Friday afternoon, at the Bleeding Carrot, Kelly Babcock hosts the open stage, and now on Friday evening there is Josh at Bridges and on Saturday afternoon Amanda at Riverside.   That adds up to a lot of free entertainment that mixes the best musicians in the area with undiscovered talents.

Shawna Caspi Joins Tragedy Ann and Cody Zevenbergen at Desboro Friday Night

This Friday, August 25th, the next in the Desboro Music Hall summer concert series is a triple bill with Tragedy Ann, Shawna Caspi and Cody Zevenbergen.

Tragedy Ann is a duo featuring Liv Cazzola on accordion and Braden Phelan on guitar and ukulele.  They have evolved from being a couple with separate musical directions to a duo creating their own brand of “thrift folk”.  They define this as “an amalgamation of well-worn musical fabrics that are repurposed and given new life in a bold and dynamic fashion” Combining Liv’s folk background with Braden’s rock sensibilities, they have created a sound which they describe as “when grit and groove meets softly swaying silk”.

Tragedy Ann has spent the summer touring around Georgian Bay.  Paul Corby, responding to one of their shows, said,  “A collective fresh breath was taken as Tragedy Ann took the stage and emanated romance, harmony and joy with such charm and dynamic interplay that the hush became palpable. The applause rose in wave upon wave throughout their set.”  This concert in Desboro brings their summer tour to an end.

Shawna Caspi is always on the road.  Her stop at Desboro hall on Friday night is near the beginning of a tour that will take her through the northeast USA, midwest USA, and Vancouver Island for much of the fall, supporting her new album release, “Forest Fire”.

Why You Should See Bill Monahan Concert on Sunday Night

OK, I admit this is entirely self-serving.  Bill Monahan is one of my favourite singer-songwriters, mainly because he’s me.  I relate to his songs, what can I say?  So I want you to be there on Sunday night, July 16th, when I play at the Rotary Pavilion down at Meaford Harbour as part of the Friends of The Library summer concert series.

I love being part of this series, singing in the fresh breezes coming off the bay, with a lot of people relaxing in their camp chairs enjoying the music.

So why should you be there?  Here’s one reason: if you like my writing with this blog about live music you will probably like my songwriting.  When I write articles for Meaford Live Music, my main goal is to tell stories that you the reader can relate to.  It’s the same when I write songs.  I always try to put myself in the head space of someone who is going through some kind of emotional adventure, and do it in a way that has something of a universal appeal in it.  And I try to put every song into a musical setting that suits the lyrics and is easy and fun to listen to.  I ran out of angst several decades ago, so my songs are more about you than me.

With this blog, I really enjoy telling stories of the various musicians that come to visit as well as those who are part of the deep and rich talent pool we have in this area.  I can identify with musicians and songwriters because we share the same passions.  So let me tell you a little bit of my own story.

I’ve always made up songs.  Always.  When I was a kid I’d forget them by the next day because I had no way to remember them.  I had no great ambition to learn to play an instrument so when I was a teenager I just accompanied myself on bongos, the easiest instrument in the world to play, I figured.  Later when I learned to play guitar, I would look up songs in song books that had chord charts.  I’d learn the chords and then make up my own songs using them.  Although I memorized every song I heard on the radio, I didn’t think I was musician enough to play them.  At least if they were my own songs, no one could tell me I was doing it wrong.  So I kept making up more songs, accompanying myself on rudimentary guitar.

Click on album cover to check out Joni’s first album on iTunes

I was always interested in writing about musicians too.  When I was a teenager I talked the owner of The Riverboat in Yorkville into letting me interview Joni Mitchell when she played there.  It was just before she released her first album.  I had no skills as an interviewer but she knew how to tell her story.  She told me why she had come to Toronto (to see Gord Lightfoot at Mariposa), her approach to songwriting (always write about what you know) and how to play open tunings (tuning of any kind was a revelation to me).  I submitted my story to The Toronto Telegram and it was rejected, although when her new album came out a few months later their article had the same details (to be fair, she probably told them the same things she told me).

Clink on this image to hear Kim Brown music

I was a solo coffeehouse guy until I started a rockabilly band with some friends when I was in my late twenties.  They were younger than me and much better players and I learned a lot from them.  I learned still more when I started having weekly jams at my house which ended up being attended by a bunch of great musicians.  I wanted to get into managing bands and a talented songwriter at my jams, a young girl named Kim Brown, asked me to manage her new band, called Rant & Rave.  It was a great band.  Kim sounded like a cross between Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge and her brother Kevin played a mean Hendrix-style guitar.

I booked the band into Toronto clubs starting at Lee’s Palace.  I got a lot of help from Yvonne Matsell, who at that time was helping Donna McCallum book blues bands at The Brunswick House.  Yvonne was amazing.  She helped local artists of every stripe. She went on to do the talent booking at a place called Ultrasound, and eventually became the artistic director of North By Northeast, the big annual talent showcase in Toronto.  Kim Brown was later signed to Hypnotic Records and released an album under the name Black AvalonKevin Brown ended up touring with former Three Days Grace frontman Adam Gontier.

Inspired by watching Rant & Rave in the studio I tried my hand at multi-track recording of my own songs and the learning experience was far superior to the finished product.

To browse BNL music on iTunes, click on image of article

I got into writing for Inside Tracks, a magazine about the Toronto music scene.  Yvonne gave me the heads up about a Scarborough band called Barenaked Ladies and I interviewed them backstage at The Horseshoe Tavern when they opened for The Jitters.  The article I wrote for Inside Tracks, in which I said how great it would be to hear them on the radio, didn’t get a lot of circulation but it gave them their first print article to add to their promo kit.

Click on this image to hear Kyp Harness music

When I was hosting an open stage at Sneaky Dee’s I was blown away by a songwriter named Kyp Harness.  We formed a management agreement that lasted several years and I founded an independent label (Amatish Music) mainly to promote his recordings, along with Sam Larkin’s only CD and a few other interesting artists.

Click on this link to hear Sam Larkin music

Writing about songwriters and promoting shows became my big thing with most of my efforts directed toward Kyp Harness, Sam Larkin, Bob Snider and Ron Sexsmith, all fascinating songwriters with something to say.  In the days before the Internet, I faxed out weekly copies of The Amatish Update to hundreds of music fans around the world.

All that was in my distant past when I moved to Meaford to start an electronics installation business called Homebuttons.  When I saw the Rotary Pavilion down at the harbour my first thought was what a great place that would be to do a concert.  I had a chance a few years later when Will Matthews asked me to play there along with another couple of shows locally, and then Roberta Docherty asked me to play at the Meaford Stomp, which I was happy to be part of for several years.  The other stage I wanted to play was the Bud Eagles stage in Memorial Park and I was able to do that just a couple of weeks ago, sharing the afternoon with Amanda Dorey.  There’s something special about playing in the open air in this beautiful environment.

It was meeting Chris Scerri at the end of 2015 that started the process that reawakened my interest in writing about music.  He had a vision of making Meaford the centre of a Georgian Bay music scene and it was a perfect fit, with Chris creating shows and me writing about them on the Internet.

But the truth is both Chris and I have our own creative ambitions.  In a little more than a year he has become locally famous as an impressive singer and now he is in demand all over the area.  Every time I listened to, interviewed, or reviewed a songwriter it fanned the flames of my own submerged ambitions and now I want more than ever to get out and have my songs heard.  I have a big box of them from fifty years of songwriting.

Being part of the Georgian Shores Songwriters Circle has been a huge inspiration that has introduced me to a lot of talented people and provided me with encouraging feedback about my own efforts.  Gradually in the past year, writing about music and making my own has captured more and more of my interest, and you’re going to be hearing more about me in the next year (even if it’s only from me).

So please come out to join me at seven on Sunday down at the beautiful Meaford Harbour.  I’ll do my best to make it entertaining.

Plus, there might be a few surprise friends show up to help me out, other songwriters I think highly of (who aren’t me).

So get there early because the spaces at the back fill up fast.  And when the Friends of The Library come around passing the hat, toss in a few coins because remember we’re all volunteers here.  It all goes to the library.

Oh yeah, and there’s one more reason you should come see my show, and this is something I’ve learned is important from watching other performers – I’m going to be wearing a cool hat.

You don’t want to be the only one in your crowd who has to admit you missed it.

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