“It is my destiny. I am an island man.”
Cuban musician Adonis Puentes is on the phone from Canada, which has been his home since 1998 when he left Cuba at age 23 for life on Vancouver Island.
“I was looking for opportunities,” Puentes said. “I love Cuba, but at the same time, I was needing to project myself internationally.”
There was also, it turns out, a woman involved.
Puentes will bring his Cuban-inspired jazz to the Rialto Theater on Friday with his all-acoustic orchestra.
The sonero comes from a musical family. Puentes’ father, Valentin, is a musician, and he wanted both Puentes and his twin brother, Alexis, to become professional musicians. Valentin had high standards for his sons — so high that he didn’t want the boys’ mother, who didn’t have the greatest voice, to sing to them for fear it would ruin their tonal sensibilities.
“It’s not as horrible as it sounds,” Puentes said with a laugh. “My mom volunteered not to sing to us.”
Apparently it worked out. “After many years, her ear got trained and now she can sing,” Puentes said.
The Puentes brothers became well known in Cuba, met Canadian women while touring there, and eventually moved north. Both have been nominated for Grammys. Alexis, who uses the stage name Alex Cuba, won the 2010 Latin Grammy for Best New Artist.
In 2014, Puentes released “Sabor a Café,” his first self-composed album. On previous albums he’s collaborated with his brother.
For “Sabor,” Puentes said he produced songs he loves “with all my heart. It’s a happy story.”
Produced in Los Angeles, the album received a 2014 Canadian Juno nomination for World Music Album of the Year.
“(The Juno) put me on the map in the Caribbean music scene. Many people got to know me through that,” Puentes said. “It’s inspiration for me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Puentes’ lyrics are upbeat and life affirming, invoking the sun and rhythms of the Caribbean. He said he can write his music whether he’s at his family’s house in Cuba or on a drizzly Victoria beach.
“It doesn’t matter how the weather is. I always try to pass a positive message through my songs,” Puentes said.
Like baseball, music is an integral part of Cuban culture. “The island is very musical. There is a strong tradition of music and arts in general,” Puentes said.
And it’s not just in clubs and concerts — it’s house by house, street by street.
“Someone will be playing trumpet five hours a day next door and people will support that. It’s important to keep the music and the heritage alive,” he said.
Puentes is optimistic about President Barack Obama’s recent policy shift toward Cuba.
“I hope it’s for the best for both countries. I think it’s time for this conflict to end and put behind this bad chapter,” Puentes said. He cites the proximity of the two nations (90 miles) and a long shared history — including music — as reasons for a thawing of relations.
“In the 1930s and 1940s, Cuban musicians worked in the United States and vice versa. Many of the great North American musicians played in Havana,” Puentes said.
Puentes describes his music as a mixture of son and salsa. “Basically I play tropical music with lyrics that are revelations of how I see life, with the hope that I can make people happy,” he said.
Puentes grew up listening to Cuban music legends Oscar Hernandez and the Septeto Nacional de Cuba. He’s since gone on to record with them.
“I’ve been working hard to get here in life. Having the amazing opportunity to collaborate with these musicians was a treat and a confirmation that I’m on the right track. And I’m learning and absorbing a lot of information,” Puentes said.
This week, prior to his Tacoma show, he’s back in Cuba where he’s spending time with his parents, family and friends. “We play guitar. We jam. We got a lot of musicians stopping by at any given minute.”
The trips back home re-energize his Cuban identity.
“I’m putting an accent to my Cuban culture. After so many years away, I like to spend time with friends and family in order to keep the authenticity,” Puentes said.
Puentes said his years in North America have transformed his career, but his roots will always be in Cuba.
“I am 100 percent Cuban.”