Cuban-Soul-Rock singer and two-time Latin Grammy Award winner Alex Cuba says music has the power to transform kids' lives.
Growing up in Cuba with a music teacher father, Cuba (who was born Alex Puentes) says he recalls his father teaching music to kids who were from broken families or were in trouble with the law.
"It completely converted them," he says. "My Dad did that. Those people are musicians today because of him."
Music gave Cuba a sense of direction in life too, he says. "Music allows you to see the beauty in life," he says. "It has a positive impact on all of your decisions."
His father playing music around the house helped to inspire Cuba to become a musician, he says.
Immigrating to British Columbia after marrying a Canadian girl in 1999, Cuba now has three kids of his own. Passing along the love of music to his children is very important to him, he says.
Juno Award Winner
But doing so isn't always easy. "They sometimes don't like my music because their tastes are very different," he says. "My dauther, Rose (aged 10), likes One Direction," he says of the pop boy band du jour. "The best we can do is to not go against what they like, but to make sure we play all sorts of music around them at home so she is exposed to it," says the Juno Award winner.
Her music choices may make him cringe, but Cuba says when his daughter taught herself to speak Spanish, then spoke to him upon his return from touring in his native tongue, it was music to his ears.
"That really touched me," he says. Meanwhile, she has been playing piano since she was four and, her father says, has a beautiful singing voice.
Cuba's eldest son Daniel, 15, has yet to catch the music bug. "I don't think he's choosing music," he says. "I tried to teach him to play the guitar once. But he's not like that. He's very clever and has a fast mind. I expect Daniel will be some sort of lawyer. He likes thinking. However, I have heard him in the shower singing and he's quite good."
Listen to Your Kids
It's important to not try to force anything on your kids, he says. "You have to listen to them," he says. "Due to some experiences in my life and family issues I think the last thing you should do is try to push your kids into a decision. You need to make the decision on your own. I tell my kids to do what they love."
Cuba's youngest boy, Owen, aged 5, has recently expressed interest in playing the guitar.
One disheartening thing about moving to Canada, Cuba says, was that he realized music is not taken as seriously here. "The first thing I saw when I landed in North America was that music is not considered a serious job by most families in Canada. In Cuba, it's a career and you have a salary and the government takes care of you. But here there was this idea that oh, he's the one we're going to have to take care of. It's just a shame because you have to be measured by your success."
Worked with Nelly Furtado
Cuba is doing well on that front. In addition to winning Best New Artist at the Latin Grammy Awards, he co-wrote and recorded a duet with fellow Canadian and international superstar Nelly Furtado. He also co-wrote more than half of the songs on one of Furtado's albums.
Touring the world with his music, however, has made loving music a bit tricky for his children, he says. "They love music but it's hard," he says. "I just returned from two and half months of travelling with my music. So they know Daddy plays all over the world but they also know music is what keeps Daddy away."
And, like most parents these days, Cuba says he never feels like he has enough time to pass along to his kids all he wants to. "It's a tricky thing," he says. "But it's just the way it is. And we roll with it."
Cuba recently visited the TVOKids studios to share his music with kids across Ontario (see above photo). You can see one of his performances in Gisèle's Big Backyard below.