With his new album currently in production, Manuel Cuevas shares his double-life as a Latin pop star and student in the Bachelor of Performing Arts program offered at Douglas College.
By Bryce Tarling, Contributor
When Manuel Cuevas—better known as the recording artist, MANN—steps onstage at the Black Room in Central Mexico, it’s already too late. His pop-rock image—short hair, jeans, and an electric pink shirt that reads, “Drink, pee, repeat”—clashes with the painted black walls adorned with images of dark angels and monsters. He looks at the crowd wearing black emo-style clothes, eye shadow, and lipstick.
Only one thought enters his mind: “Oh. Shit.”
Cuevas sings the first song, an earthy nylon-stringed melody from his first album, Real. The song is in English—not Spanish—and the petulant emo crowd screams for heavy distortion. Then, someone from the crowd shouts, “Sing in Spanish you traitor of our nation!” The boos and the jeers drown out the strumming. When the peanut shells clatter across the stage, Cuevas knows this is one crowd he’s not going to win over.
For Cuevas, currently enrolled in the fourth year of the new Bachelor of Performing Arts degree program offered at Douglas College, the Black Room wasn’t the only stage where Cuevas felt out of place.
Cuevas was born and raised in Mexico City where, during a school project, he learned about a place called Vancouver. He decided this was the city where he wanted to start his life as an adult, living off of doing what he loves most: music, art, and film. Now, having lived in the Lower Mainland for six years, and despite his success as a privileged indie rock star in Mexico, Cuevas finds himself still navigating many challenges as a foreigner.
When he first immigrated to Canada, Cuevas’ vision of living in an urban downtown Vancouver was quickly replaced by the reality of a small house in the suburb of Coquitlam. And despite graduating high school in Mexico, he was forced to attend another year at Dr. Charles Best Secondary to learn English, where he and his brother, Esteban, were the only Latino students.
“It was hard to move from one country to another,” says Cuevas. “It was like starting all over again.”
Isolated and frustrated, Cuevas felt he was moving backwards. To get his life moving again, he eventually ditched the last two months of high school to study film at the Art Institute of Vancouver. But only three months into the program, Cuevas was offered a contract with the indie-label, Aedon Records in Mexico City.
It was a challenge working for the record label and studying at the Art Institute, but Cuevas looks back on the time as a period of growth for himself, both as a musician and as an artist.
Cuevas’s first tour with Aedon featured one of his biggest shows at the World Trade Center Mexico City, where he played in front of more than 1,000 screaming fans. Aedon invested money in an elaborate stage production and designed posters and water bottles featuring the MANN logo. “Seeing people walking away with them gave me a really weird feeling,” says Cuevas who wasn’t used to seeing his face carried in the hands of others. The show was more than a success for Cuevas. It gave him the opportunity to connect with his fans and legitimized him as an artist.
Since signing with Aedon, Cuevas, has released three studio albums and performed in two national tours across Mexico. Cuevas’s first single “From the Start,” off his upcoming album, Lava (February 2013), reached No. 9 on Reverb Nation for Latin artists across Canada and No. 3 in Vancouver. Aside from being a hit across the country and in Mexico, Cuevas says, “The song talks about starting over and taking what you learn from the past and becoming a better version of yourself”—something Cuevas knows all too well.
[quote]“The song talks about starting over and taking what you learn from the past and becoming a better version of yourself”—something Cuevas knows all too well. [/quote]
Cuevas looks back on difficult times in his first years in Canada, before he acquired his landed immigrant status. After finishing his film program, his student visa had run out and he couldn’t apply for a work visa without company sponsorship. The Art Institute, which typically finds employment for its graduates, couldn’t help students without certain legal status. Cuevas had to take jobs babysitting and cleaning houses to earn an income and to stave off boredom. “It was really depressing,” Cuevas recalls less than fondly.
Despite his troubles, Cuevas attributes much of his success to his life in Vancouver. While living in the city, Cuevas completed the Basic Musicianship program at Douglas College, which changed the way he listened to and appreciated music. He describes himself pre-program as an animal, playing his way by feel. “Now,” says Cuevas, “I’m more eloquent.” Cuevas also began to take his career more seriously. He didn’t want to be just another pop singer who looks pretty onstage, and he constantly looked for ways to improve his craft. “When people say, ‘you’re just doing music for fun,’ I say, ‘No. It’s my job’—because it is.”
Cuevas’ life in Canada has also influenced his audience’s perceptions of him. Radio shows and newspapers in Mexico label Cuevas as an international Canadian artist from Vancouver. Cuevas says, “They see me as an artist that left Mexico, became successful, and came back.” During one interview, the radio station even hired a translator because they didn’t know Cuevas spoke Spanish. The irony isn’t lost on Cuevas, who laughs, “I’m more Mexican than beans.”
For Cuevas, the experience at the Black Room became a bout between artist and audience. It came at a time in his career when all he wanted was for people to like him and his music. The scene forced him to present himself in front of people who hated him, but rather than dissuade him, he left the show more confident than ever. After what many would consider a traumatic experience, Cuevas says, “I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anyone. I just feel like I’m doing what is right for me.”
Bachelor of Performing Arts program
Douglas College now offers students the opportunity to complete the last 33 credits of a 120-credit Bachelors of Performing Arts degree.
Focusing on both theory- and skills-based learning, students enrolled in the full-time program will have the chance to improve their proficiency in one or more performing arts disciplines. Classes will also require students to investigate, critique, and challenge the socio-political and culture dynamics of the industry and provides training for business skills such as grant writing, founding an arts organization, and individual career development.
Each year, students enrolled in the program form a cohort-run production company to host their own interdisciplinary performing arts event. The project allows students to put their knowledge and skills to practical use.
The program has been developed as a partnership of Douglas College, Capilano University, Langara College, and Vancouver Community College.
The deadline to apply for 2013/2014 is set for February 8, 2013. For more information, visit the Douglas College website, contact Stuart Atkins at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 604-984-4913.