Outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, snow bundled on the staircase leading to the grand foyer. Cold blistered stars popped in the sky. The Rideau Canal shivered beside the building, its ice as cracked as my fingertips at the tail end of winter.

Inside, I and a friend mamboed and sambaed and sweat and swooned to the music of Alexis Puentes, better known as Alex Cuba, whose music solders his Afro-Cuban roots to jazz, funk, and soul. It wasn’t the disinhibiting effects of wine that made me dance in public along with several hundred others. It was Puente’s music and its call to my aorta, to my pulse, to my heels and hips.

Before last night, I didn’t know his music which is kind of like saying I’ve never heard of a Cuban sandwich. He’s a multi-award winning musician having claimed a number of Latin Grammys and a Juno along his musical path. He names Smithers, British Columbia as home. Wait. What?

Smithers, BC

Smithers is halfway between Prince Rupert and Prince George, battened down in the Bulkley Valley, about a 13 hour drive north of Vancouver.  If you go to the town’s tourism website, his is the first photo you’ll see along with his bass player Ian Olmstead, another Smithereen. His picture leads the tourism images of downhill skiing, bears, First Nations art, a float plane, and incisor icy peaks. Like many northern BC towns, the population is primarily First Nations and white.

Fearlessness comes to mind. And romantic because why would someone move from Cuba to Smithers? Puentes says that while on tour with his father’s band on his first visit to Canada in 1995, he fell in love early one morning with the winter landscape along the highway somewhere between Winnipeg and Toronto. This is not an easy feat considering the road cuts through stark, hard Canadian Shield and trees and more stark, hard Canadian Shield and trees. Add snow and a sunrise you have stark, hard Canadian Shield and trees and sunlit blue cold snow – which I suppose is better than stark, hard Canadian Shield, trees, and black flies. But he loved it.  And so, lucky Canada, he moved here, met his wife in Vancouver and settled in her hometown of Smithers. Romantic, eh? Now he has a band composed of two home-grown Smithereens – Ian Olmstead on bass, Jake Jenne on drums – and another transplanted Cuban, Jose Sanchez, on percussion. Oh, those congas!

Alex Cuba in Smithers

I know nothing about how music is constructed. As a writer I understand and can pull apart and enjoy writing that I admire like shredding delicious pulled pork. I can tell you why word choices in someone else’s work give me shivers. How short and long sentences lead me to certain responses. In song-writing I can pick out poetry versus schmaltz. But Alex Cuba writes and sings mostly in Spanish so his appeal is something else. It’s the way his music makes my heart salsa and my blood jump – like I’ve shooshed down a mountain on my skiis.

Like I’ve encountered a grizzly bear while on a hike.

Like I’ve caught the biggest Spring Salmon ever.

Like I’ve seen a frozen Canadian Shield lake on the highway between Winnipeg and Toronto.

Like an Afro-Cuban calls Smithers home. Shoosh!




23 thoughts on “Shoosh!

  1. Bruce Goodman March 6, 2016 / 3:04 pm

    I’ve never heard of a Cuban sandwich. Nor Smithers. Nor Alex Cuba. Love the video on his webpage! I’d love to live in Smithers. A great intro to lots of things.


    • Susanne March 6, 2016 / 3:08 pm

      A Cuban sandwich tastes like Alex Cuba’s music. I’ve never been to Smithers but it sure looks pretty and I’d like to go someday.


  2. thecontentedcrafter March 6, 2016 / 4:46 pm

    There’s no accounting for the mysteries of life that lead a Spanish singing, beautiful congo rhythmic fellow such as this to living in the midst of Canadian mountains, prairies, winters ….. Perhaps there will soon be a whole congo line of swaying Canadians following the beat from Smithers to the rest of Canada. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susanne March 6, 2016 / 5:39 pm

      I bought his CD and have been listening to it on and off all day. I feel our national hips have been invigorated by this wonderful music.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy Murphy March 6, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    🙂 I was there and you brought it all back, what a joyful time we had!! You have a gift!


    • Susanne March 6, 2016 / 5:40 pm

      My hips are happier for the excursion. Thanks for a great night, Cath.


  4. derrickjknight March 7, 2016 / 3:28 am

    The only shivers your writing gives me are those of enjoyment


    • Susanne March 7, 2016 / 7:27 am

      Well, Derrick, that comment gave ME shivers. Thank you very much!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Osyth March 7, 2016 / 10:18 am

    Thank you for the introduction – I feel a love affair starting. Your sublime prose had me itching to hear the music for myself (so thank you for providing the easy peasy linkage to do just that). I don’t know what a Cuban Sandwich is, by the way 😉


      • Osyth March 7, 2016 / 10:59 am

        Thank you – my education continues! I’m sure my husband would know what it is but in England it would just be a cheese and ham sandwich with pickles. We are rather unimaginative with names (except Bubble and Squeak and Toad in the Hole :D)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. exiledprospero March 7, 2016 / 5:37 pm

    So, Mr. Cuba, from Cuba, is blown to smithereens by a septrional girl called Canada, from Canada, and to the conga beat a Latin melody makes Redo Sue’s shoes move!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 7, 2016 / 6:36 pm

      Yes, that’s an excellent summary of the situation. I had to look up septentrion and what a great word that is. Thanks for that!


  7. Yvonne March 9, 2016 / 7:26 pm

    How cool is he! And, I love that he’s wearing rubber boots in the video.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jbbluesman March 10, 2016 / 12:28 pm

    Love your post Sue and the music. I will have to add at least one of his songs to my repertoire!


    • Susanne March 10, 2016 / 12:37 pm

      And he’s from Smithers! Still can’t get over that. So glad you liked his music which although bears lots of resemblance to traditional Cuban jazz has its own style.


  9. Ellen Morris Prewitt March 11, 2016 / 2:26 pm

    What I kept thinking as I was reading this great story was how “globalization” introduces us to things that speak to our heart maybe sometimes more than the things we were born among. Then we share and it just keeps on giving. And, as a girl from Memphis, I can’t help but love the pulled pork analogy. 🙂


    • Susanne March 11, 2016 / 6:24 pm

      The first time I had pulled pork was in Baltimore some 25 years ago. You don’t forget an experience like that either. As for Alex Puentes, I still shake my head that he landed in a fairly remote place in northern BC and is thriving which speaks to your comment about finding a place that speaks to your heart, just as his music touches us.


  10. Manja Mexi Movie April 14, 2016 / 11:16 am

    > I can tell you why word choices in someone else’s work give me shivers.

    I leave the why alone and just shiver. And my eyebrows shoot up and that’s when I know. It’s lovely to swim among your words.


    • Susanne April 14, 2016 / 6:57 pm

      Aww. That’s a lovely thing to say, Ms. M. Feel free to drop into the pool of words anytime. You’re always welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

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