• Rachele Viard

Grammy Award artist Aymée Nuviola and her Fierce Rhythms

As the 2021 Grammy Awards show was approaching, I was looking at the full list of nominees and when I got to one of my favorite categories ‘Latin Jazz’, the only musician in this category that I knew was Poncho Sanchez. I got curious and looked up the other nominees, and when I got Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymée Nuviola, I was flabbergasted. I looked up Nuviola and fell upon a beautiful Cuban woman with a spectacular voice. I listened to her music on YouTube and it reaffirmed why I love Latin Jazz, Cuban music and Afro-Carribbean music. La Sonera del Mundo (The Singer of the World), as she is known, has a unique and incomparable voice that resonates and makes you pay attention. I was intrigued about Nuviola, an award-winning artist, so I reached out to her husband and manager Paulo Simeon. And to my greatest surprise they answered and agreed to an interview.

I am honored to have had this opportunity and am happy to share Nuviola’s journey in the entertainment industry.

Photos provided by Paulo Simeon

CE: You were born into a musical family and began taking piano lessons at the age of three, growing up did you ever imagine another career besides music?

AN: I grew up in a totally artistic environment, especially very musical, and this planted a seed that germinated from an early age. Parallel to this loving taste for music -like any child- I dreamed of studying other professions such as psychology and archeology. Finally, my mind wanted to explore other avenues, but my heart only loved music.

CE: Who was one of your biggest influencers?

AN: My mother was a great musical influence on me, she played the piano and beautifully performed classical pieces such as Debussy's Moonlight, and other masterpieces by Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. Hearing her also play works by great masters of Cuban pianistic such as Lecuona, Cervantes and Saumell was another enormous joy for me. At the age of seven my mother enrolled me at the School of Art to study classical piano, and with the passage of time I began to discover trends and cultures that caught my attention, such as Brazilian, American and Afro-Caribbean sounds for example and that influenced my work as a composer and performer. The great Benny More (Icon of Cuban music) was heard daily in my house, and I think I have many things in common with him.

CE: You began singing professionally at age 9, what are your memories of those early days and what was it like singing with your sister?

AN: I remember from my beginnings in Cuba, the shows that we performed with my parents in the "Casas de la Trova” (House of Soul), on our block where we lived, in the living room in our house in the Centro Habana neighborhood at the center of the heart of Havana, with the windows open, and all of our neighbors watching us sing and play the piano. Then after the formation of the Duet "Las Nuviola" with my sister Lourdes, and our successful triumph at the singing national contest “Todo el Mundo Canta” ("Everybody Sing”) where came in First Place in the Vocal Groups category at the annual competition, our lives suddenly changed.

The popularity we achieved was a great blessing for us as young people who had great dreams for our lives as artists and as Afro-descendants, but many people around us were scared by the changes that were taking place and made decisions that were a bit confusing to us. Friends who grew up with us in the same neighborhood moved away from our lives, and when we confronted them they told us that they thought we would set them apart because we were famous and so they decided to do it first. So we had to deal with the peculiarity of not only understanding what could go through our minds but we also tried to understand what was going through the minds of the people who loved us with respect to the fact that we were no longer ordinary people, but two well-known and famous artists in our country.

On the other hand, singing with my sister has always been a privilege, a joy and a way of feeling that I am not alone on stage but that there is someone supporting me in any eventuality. I really enjoy her voice and her way of interpreting, we can play with our voices and we like to challenge friends by asking him: Let's see if you recognize now who is in the prima voice and who is in the second, and honestly, no one has been right so far.

CE: Your music has being described as “an island without borders”. I suppose speaking to that fact, it’s hard to put your music in a certain category, please explain?

AN: My style is a mixture and fusion of genres and musical concepts. I flirt with many musical trends but I don't immerse myself in any. I am influenced by Jazz, Brazilian, Afro-Caribbean music and of course my country, Cuba, where I also had complete musical training, since I studied classical piano at art school. The popular taste of my fans has led me to the dance genre and within this, to improvisation or suddenness, this ease of improvising on a theme that is part of a Song -without any prior preparation-this is a very genuine characteristic of Cuban Son gender that is why Oscar D' Leon baptized me as "La Sonera del mundo".

CE: According to some you became internationally known with Salsa and the fierce Timba. Can you please tell us about the Timba?

AN: What a good question and how appropriate because here you are talking with a founder of "La Timba Cubana", my sister Lourdes and I were the first women to be the lead singers of a Timba orchestra, imagine! Two women leading 15 male musicians, it was a very hard stage for both of us, traveling the world with a very young age and so many "Macho-men”.

As I say in one of my songs, La timba was born in the streets of Havana, there were groups and musicians who contributed elements to Cuban music that were leading it towards what we know today as Timba. Sounds and concepts that go beyond the simple fact of making dance music or for the dancer, jazz, rock, different Cuban and Latin genres merge in this type of manifestation of our music, which also contains both conceptual and interpretive aggressiveness. It feeds on daily life, everyday life, social demands and its problems, it can be heartbreaking and at the same time fiery, or it can go to corners that are too far-fetched due to the musical level that the Cuban musician unquestionably possesses.

The Timba is in my concept the result of the evolution of our Cuban music within the island. I also believe that Timba has been focused from the beginning to give the musician the opportunity to show off his/her virtuosity, to show the public what he/she is capable of doing with his/her instrument. And for the singer it is a challenge, you must show that you can handle a demanding public that increasingly expects to be reflected in this musical modality in which the lyrics of the choruses are of vital importance, since they are supposed to expose the reality of the listener.

CE: What are some ways you draw inspiration when composing or putting together an album together?

AN: My music is a reflection of the life I lead, I sing to everything that is important in my daily life, to God, my husband, love, family, friends, and also to defend Latina and Afro women and the music itself. I use music to achieve or translate an idea or purpose to the world and most of the time, I allow the music to use me gently. I understand that artists have a responsibility to the public, and in the specific case of music, I also understand that it can be a curse or a blessing for the listener, so I take care of the message that I transmit. I am very demanding when I have to choose a song that has not been composed by me because I do not like to have a double discourse, I do not like vulgarities, or follow current trends only to gain followers.

CE: You have been nicknamed “La Sonera del Mundo”, what does it mean and how do you feel about such recognition? And what role did Oscar D' Leon play in your getting this nickname?

AN: Oscar D' Leon named me "The Sonera of the World" due to my ease of being able to improvise playing with music and text, something very characteristic of our Cuban Son. It is a nickname that at first scared me because I did not want it to be misinterpreted, but when I used it in my first record production in the United States, the press and many followers began to call me this way, and as I say, well it came and it stayed. Now at this moment I am only trying to honor this distinction made by the Master Oscar.

CE: In 2020 you won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album with A Journey Through Cuban Music, how did winning feel?

AN: It was an unforgettable experience, a learning experience, and my first time! A privilege, a true luxury and a great blessing from God, to be able to bring together so many important figures of our music in a single production and that it was recognized with the most important award in music. In a way, one feels that everyone's work is being recognized, that the effort was doubly worth it and that those people who put their trust in you have also been recognized and compensated. You feel that you are representing many other dreamers who equally yearn to become recognized and see in you an open door to that possibility. I was honored to put the name of my people and my race on something with this award.

CE: Your discography is impressionable, which particular Album has a special meaning to you?

AN: They are all different for me and they are all extremely important, they reflect moments or stages of my artistic and personal life, and they open up new horizons for me. Each Album has been a discovery and a unique experience of its kind, however I recognize that the Grammy I received for the album "A Journey through Cuban Music", impacted my life and my career because it has great meaning for me to have received this recognition with an album that brings together so many important artists from my country defending our Cuban music with excellence. My most recent album “Viento y Tiempo (Wind and Time), Live at Blue Note Tokyo” with the Master Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, also deserves a special place. Because it was a project that brought to reality the dream of working with my beloved and admired friend Gonzalo, whom I have known since I was a child and I consider him as part of my family and my history. This album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2021.

CE: How and when did you begin your acting career?

AN: Acting has always been part of my work as an artist. In Cuba I had good acting teachers and I also the opportunity to participate in theater plays, and in a movie too. In Miami, I did seasons within a peculiar theatrical form called “Micro-theater", and although I love acting, I couldn't dedicate more time to it due to my commitments as a singer, composer and musician.

In Cartagena, Colombia, I received the proposal to do the casting for Celia's series, and I was selected among many participants, thank God. There already began another stage of my career as an actress and this opportunity also impacted my career as a singer.

CE: You played the immortal Celia Cruz for RCN and NBC Telemundo TV channels, what was that like? How do you prepare for such a role?

AN: To make the roll in the Celia series, I prepared myself by searching for information about her, watching her videos and interviews of her, asking questions about her to people who knew her closely. So with all that information, I made up the character. I worried not only about her gestures, but about taking great care of her appearance, not to caricaturize her at any time, on the contrary, to wear with elegance all the accessories that she used for her look, and that characterized her so much, her wigs, her nails, her makeup, shoes, and accessories.

I had the opportunity to meet Celia on one of my many trips to Mexico to sing. She was introduced to me by Johnny Ventura. Our conversation was short, but long enough to make me realize that she was a loving, polite, people-watcher, and very real person. I always carry in my mind the way of talking about her by moving my head to both sides, and taking the hand of the interlocutor and hold it.

I remember her looking into my eyes, she smiled, took one of my hands with her two hands and gave me a great advice, and then, took off the earrings she was wearing and gave them to me, incredible! I quickly took mine off and gave them to her, we both nodded and she continued walking towards the exit arm in arm with her husband “Cabecita de Algodon" (cotton head) as she called him.

Without a doubt, this protagonist marked my personal and artistic life, it is a before and after in my career, a privilege and at the same time a great responsibility, since her great legacy and her long career left her in the memory of the people, and her admirers are a demanding and jealous public who want the best for their Queen.

CE: Are there any other acting roles for you in the near future?

AN: I have received proposals that have not convinced me, and we have decided to reject them. I think that after having played Celia as a leading role in a series that has been around the world and has received the best reviews, I want be even more careful in the roles that I agree to play. I want to take firm steps in acting just as I have done in my singing career, and for that, with the help of God, the first thing to have is Faith and not despair. The best always takes a little longer to arrive, it's just a matter of being prepared.

CE: You are the first Afro Latina in Spotify history, to represent the annual Black History Month celebration in the United States, how did this come about?

AN: Spotify Executives approached my record label “Top Stop Music” because they were following the result of my work not only musically speaking but also as an image of the Afro Latina woman, a consistent image that I have defended for many years even though this aspect was not mentioned years ago. In fact, I was getting a lot of bullying because of my AFRO. I think that I looked and enjoyed the characteristics that I possess in an elegant and respectful way to my public, so that they can understand a little more the richness of our Latin and Afro culture, physically, musically and socially. I live proud of my roots and my mix and Spotity understood this, in addition to seeing in me as growing artist and in total commitment to my art and my social stance.

CE: You have broken many ceilings, you have made an impact worldwide, many young girls of color look up to you and hope to follow in your footsteps what would you advise them?

AN: I would advise them to never to lose their dignity, to be honorable representative of your race and essence. To wear with pride what God gave you because we are all part of divine creation and God gave us a purpose from before we were born. The best way to say is to do and our testimony of life speaks for ourselves. Let us show a human being worthy of being imitated and obey the commandment of God that says that we love others as ourselves, as Jesus has loved us.

CE: For those who have yet to visit, how would you describe Cuba?

I can describe my country as a place full of great contrasts. A country where there is a shortage of everything but talent and music. We Cubans are music, color, joy and rhythm. All keeping the hope that Cuba wakes up, opens its wings and begins to fly without fear.

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