Without Understanding

Alex Cuba and the audience

12 November 2023

I was recently in Sevilla where I attended a concert by the Cuban Canadian musician Alex Cuba. It proved to be a thought provoking experience. Alex Cuba has built a career by developing a devoted audience while singing in both Spanish and English. None of his song videos or even his Tiny Desk performance with a (great) band convey the human warmth that was generated in the room of around 300 people. Armed only with his expressive voice and subtle rhythmic guitar skills, Alex created an incredibly intimate dialogue with those in attendance. The Andalusian audience, which may have included some with Cuban heritage, knew all the words. Alex encouraged their participation from the beginning, creating call and response opportunities. This being Andalusia, his guitar flourishes generated frequent “Ole’s”. The clapping along of the audience was subtle, influenced by the “palmas” of Flamenco and utterly unlike the groove killing hammering of beats one and three which still blights some European concert halls. The audience were certainly celebrating the music but I think a better word for their attitude would be “reverence”. They showed reverence for the performer, the songs and the occasion. From the moment Alex Cuba appeared on the stage, he established a deep connection with his people. This was through a mixture of charisma, humour and the knowledge that he was loved. It was a privilege to witness this meeting which eliminated any traditional notion of a distinction between audience and performer. In truth, the audience was the gig.