Aymée Nuviola en Santiago de Cuba. Foto: Cortesía de la entrevistada

Aymée Nuviola: First Class from Havana

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Interviews
Reading time 14 minutes

She knows well the ins and outs, profiles and complications of repertoires in Cuban music, but at the same time he confesses that he does not like to “put edges on her”. She knows what she is talking about, not only because she is a training musician but because having started very young, and still being very young, she had the privilege of accumulating enough stage-hours to take all that is not learned in a school or that a teacher cannot teach you from you. This decade that almost ended catapulted her to other levels, reaping the fruits of patience and learning for a few years. Cuban through and through, beyond the cliche, without loans or facilities, Aymée Nuviola usually talks about her life and music offering her criteria with total flatness, without any conventions and without any other need to express her musical thought as it is presented.

The Cubans of the island, from a certain generation onwards (or backwards, I don’t know), lost her, as well as “many” other artists who have taken the path to try to do their work in other “tones”, were lost or still-. Once in a while, an email arrived with some news, later, some video placed in the Weekly Package, and so you rescued in some almost lost area of memory to one of those two mulatto sisters, of those times in which it was not common for a salsa orchestra (a non-sacrilegious term commonly used for the ugly sound of “timba”) like that of Pachito Alonso y sus Kini Kini had two female singers on their front line. It was no longer possible, nothing to do if se te fue la mora (the "mora" went away).

Therefore, despite the fact that I almost always choose to avoid chronologies, and although at this point thanks to a certain “mobility” of the data and the Google modus operandi, the history of yesterday is at everyone's hand, I decided to start at the beginning, in a usual and simple way.

How much is there of Aymée Nuviola of the beginnings in the current artist?

“Yo creo que todavía hay. Me mantengo en la posición de que no me gusta que me pongan bordes y me enmarquen en una sola cosa. Estoy consciente de que todos los artistas necesitan tener una dirección, o sea, que hay que entender que uno se enfoca en determinados públicos y tiene su estilo, en el que debes enfocarte según lo que quieres hacer, porque si no te conviertes en una especie de circo musical que en nada ayuda a tu carrera. Pero sigo teniendo mi piano, que me encanta, que fue con lo que comencé el dúo con Lourdes. Esto me permite hacer esa música íntima que me  gusta mucho, tanto en mis composiciones como en cosas del filin, jazzeadas, de la trova, la bossa nova, etc. Eso me sigue cautivando, sobre todo porque nosotros estuvimos en un inicio en una orquesta que hacía varios tipo de géneros, lo cual marcó y sigue marcando mi carrera. A mi me gustan las propuestas nuevas, no importa el género. Mi discografía así lo refleja, es variada, y eso también, creo, es el resultado de esos inicios.

Aymée with her sister Lourdes. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
Aymée with her sister Lourdes. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

“There is something that marked me in Cuba too, and it was that I went with my sister almost a founder, for the participation we had as women in the timba. Lourdes later had a much greater display when she continued alone making this type of music more aggressive. That sometimes I try to incorporate it into my work and, of course, my discography. Out here it is still present, although you have to dose it a bit, intelligently, to be assimilated. ”

The image used to pixelate with relative frequency although the audio flowed normally. Actually, I couldn't ask for more to the Hangouts in this part of the world. Perhaps that, or perhaps because of the enthusiasm resulting from the exchange of some memories, is why there came a time when she decided takes off the dark glasses that protected her in that period of time in which the musicians wish not to exist for others: the morning. But, if I'm fair, I must say that a heavy cold (that terrible disease so feared by singers) had her trapped and interrupted our dialogue from time to time. So, to try to motivate her a little, I took out a vinyl of Pachito Alonso y sus Kini Kini, which I still keep in my collection, and I showed it to her. She laughs immediately, Cuidado con la mora (1990) can also be considered an Aymée Nuviola album and brought back her many memories.

The imprint of the Nuviola is present in that album, not only from the interpretative point of view but also in the production itself. In spite of his youth, Aymée was in charge of the assembly of voices, she worked on the keyboard (together with Lázaro Valdés Jr.) and influenced the selection of two non-typical themes for this type of orchestra at that time: < i> Yo digo que las estrellas (Silvio Rodríguez) and Voy a conquistar (Pancho Céspedes). “It was a stage in our work in which I discovered Pancho in Cuba. Of course, I cannot say as such that I discovered it because his work already existed, but I noticed in him a talent that I did not know would be so great. There were many people who did not know him, who knew his brother Miguel Angel, a great singer. I realized that Pancho's songs were so wonderful and I start to see how to mix his work with Pachito’s. There was a time when we made two independent recordings of the orchestra with Pancho: one was for the 1992 OTI Festival, which was a finalist in Cuba; It was called Algo más que amigos . But since Pachito was a bit territorial in that sense, I tried to merge the two proposals. At that time that kind of song offered great harmonic resources, it was perceived as something fresh, current. Finally, we convinced Pachito and it was when we recorded the song: Voy a conquistar I always liked Silvio's song and, in fact, I used to sing it alone frequently. Pachito listened to it and he asked me, surprised by that song, and in the end he asked to set it up and record it. ”

Aymée and her group, years ago. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
Aymée and her group, years ago. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

I understand that you worked and put a voice with other orchestras in those years...

"Yes, with Irakere I did El baile del Juanito and Boliviana. Sometimes people said that I record with NG La Banda, but as such I did nothing with NG, however, with an All Star Cuban Band directed by José Luis Cortés (Founder and Director of NG la Banda) With him I was involved in several projects, I remember one that was called “From here to there” which was for a tour in Puerto Rico where I made a duet with Tony Calá".

In terms of awards and recognitions, recent years have been generous with this singer. Latin Grammy Award for Como anillo al dedo (2018), two Latin and Grammy nominations for the album First Class to Havana (2014-2015) and two other for her most recent production A Journey Through Cuban Music (2019-2020). The latter, not only walks promotionally with freshness today but also generates expectations for its possible award by the Academy at the end of this month.

Speaking of this latest album, A Journey Through Cuban Music , it could be thought that for an artist with a certain reputation and prestige, a traditional production (in terms of sound) is something easy or safe. How is the revision of the repertoire? When do you decide to do this? How do you let yourself be advised in the selection of the topics even though they are more or less known? How is that work?

“It is very risky. We made the first attempt with First Class to Havana , which was produced by Paulo Simeon, my husband and manager. That record actually looked somewhat cut because at that time we got involved in Celia's novel and had to reduce virtually all tours and promotions. Even so, the album achieved a reach that we did not even expect; They still ask us a lot today, even at jazz festivals, so we decided not to dispense with the themes of that album but to include them in the repertoire. There are songs like Paco or El espacio that are mandatory in my concerts. I say that this work is the first attempt because I even remember that there is a song by Alexis Valdés with Jorge Luis Piloto called Yo soy así, in which we did some Van Van-style choirs, while in others we went more by the style of Charanga Habanera.

“That's why, when we left the album Como anillo al dedo , we decided to return to the roots. In fact, we had the proposal of the label to do something very traditional and Cuban. Quickly my husband was given the task of doing a study of the reception of Cuban dance music songs in the different Internet platforms, he studied also the types of versions that had been made. I'm not going to deny you that sometimes we were a little scared of certain songs that were somewhat crazed, like Lágrimas Negras . But what we did, in order not to go completely for the traditional, was to start at that time and end by the most current. That is why we incorporate themes by Irakere, Van Van, Kelvis Ochoa, and Descemer Bueno.

Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

“We never intended it to have a didactic-cultural reach, but simply something fresh for people to assimilate the scope of our music that is very complicated, has many ramifications; if you get to poke around there you can get tangled up and lose. What we were looking for was a phonogram that would flow easily. There are very versioned themes but the structure is always changed and they are refreshed with new choirs. We took on the task with Roniel Alfonso, who is one of the best producers and arrangers there, to make a co-production together. The record was recorded in Cuba, I brought him some mambos I had conceived, I sang them, he made all the arrangements based on the structure of the themes that, to some extent, I also had preconceived. It was wonderful to work with musicians from my country, who have a different accent, young people, who do traditional music somewhat differently than older people do. ”

Step by step we were getting into the subject. As I attempt to disguise as a journalist until I get discovered, I try to be objective and cover as far as possible all the facets, the discography and the performance of the artist, but in this case, there was an aspect that touched me and I understood that it was the right time: the soneros, improvisation, her self-perception about it.

“Todas las habilidades que nosotros tenemos son dones que Dios nos regala. Hay personas que lo desarrollan y otras no. Respecto a este tema creo que también hay desinterés. Yo noto que en Cuba hay muy buenas voces, a veces me quedo impactada por la buena voz y la tesitura de muchos cantantes, pero no siento que se preocupan mucho porque la gente entienda lo que están diciendo. A veces quieren demostrar mucho más esa facilidad de hacer melodías, la agresividad y la guapería de la timba que nosotros sabemos existe. Pero tiene que haber un mensaje, y el mensaje tiene que ser resultado de que te ocupes de improvisar lo correcto y en el momento correcto. Independientemente de que tengas el don o no lo tengas, se puede ir a un estudio y hacer guías que tengan un mensaje más allá de demostrar otras cosas. Siempre me gustó eso pero mi caminar por otros países latinos que no tienen nuestra idiosincrasia, que no tienen muchas de nuestras palabras autóctonas me hizo reflexionar sobre esto  e improvisar de una manera en la que todos me entendieran. Yo puedo inventar muchas cosas hablando musicalmente, en los discos puedo jugar con las armonías, pero me he dedicado más a que la gente se lleve un mensaje. En definitiva es un don que puedes desarrollar con la lectura, que te da vocabulario”.

Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

Have you trained it? Have you proposed it?

“I train it, yes. Even sometimes I am listening to songs in the voice of other singers and when I listening to the choirs I begin to think about what guides would occur to me, how I would have played with the metric. I practice that. But I insist on the message. There are people who, in order to rhyme, often say nonsense. There is something that is happening in Cuban music and that is that the choirs are distancing themselves from the central theme of the song as it progresses. Sometimes there are choirs related to saints completely unrelated to the song. At the end that gives you less room when you are improvising with coherence because it is true that the purpose is to make the public dance but everything must have coherence and be organized. You can not lose the perspective that improvisation is made to enrich the song, giving more information to the public around the central theme.

“On the other hand, sometimes we do not realize that people learn the text of the song and the choirs but also learn the guides and even the mambos. Even if one has the ability to improvise, I notice that sometimes there are some guides that are good and I usually repeat them because I feel that the public is waiting for them. ”

Do you think that to be considered a sonero, in the classical sense or in the current sense, you have to defend the son in a more or less pure state or, say, a person who has the voice, the voice color, the ability to improvise, if it is done in a merged or conventionally "salsera" way, can it also be considered as such?

“It's a very interesting question, notice that they call me sonera and, actually, I don't sing. They call me sonera because of that, because I have the ability to improvise, because maybe I have some swing for that kind of music. But I am not a traditional son singer. I think the only time I've recorded traditional son is in this last album. And I have also done it in a very peculiar way, I do not have that way 'in total key' of singing that some traditional soneros have, it is not my way nor do I have that vibrato of the old soneros, nor the way in which they handle the melody. But at the moment how things are, I think so, that someone with these characteristics can be called sonero even if they don't defend the pure son. But I do not agree that a person who does not improvise is called sonero, because the sonero is precisely that, the taste, the improvisation, the suddenness, the spark. Outside of the Cuban sphere, for example, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Venezuelans, call them 'soneos' to improvisations, that is, for them to sound is to improvise. It can be done with more or less sense of the message and the melody, but there must be combined creativity when facing improvisation. ”

But not only of salsa or son the man alive (in this case, the woman). The realities of the music market have their own laws of gravitation, and from Miami, or you understand them or do not exist as an artist. The challenge is how to consider the work without negotiating certain essences, to what extent what is fashionable musicians can take it to their land and convince different audiences. Aymée had to be convinced, it was not a simple step to take. But Paulo Simeon knew that it was the right time and that nothing was lost with exploring as long as the compass was not lost. That is why in Como anillo al dedo the Cuban key is present in more than half of the themes and the structures of various compositions are not those of the urban genre but are modified to cover to the inspirations. The experiment was crowned with a Latin Grammy, but it all started with a featuring.

“When we started thinking about a new album, Paulo made research and understood that it was a good time to think in a featuring with someone who was placed within what is known as urban genre. We have a kind of alliance with Angel Arce, a great music producer, better known as one of the ‘Pututi’. He has begun to make great strides in this type of genre and was the right person because, in short, I am not a reggaeton singer and to convince people you had to make a fusion as smart as possible. Pututi had a song that he gave me to hear, his name was Bailando todo se olvida ; I made some adjustments and then we thought in a featuring for it. We found Baby Rasta and Gringo, two Puerto Rican reggaeton musicians who even went to Cuba with us.

"That was the first track recorded for the album, and it went spectacularly well. It reached first places on Billboard lists, we could play it live at the Latin American Music Awards, we could sell it to Zumba, a very popular fitness discipline. After this step, we begin to think about different composers for the rest of the themes and make it as shared as possible so as not to vitiate. We called Tirso, a member of the Tres de La Habana and to Alexis Valdés, but in the end, we had an axis that was: Pututi, Bea —his wife— and me. The three of us participate in the conception and retouching of all issues. We are always pending not to lose my identity as an artist, that people believe it and, above all, have the margin to say things my way. I also entered into what is called house music that has worked very well for me playing live".

Do you usually do the songs on this album live too? How do you handle the instrumentation in that case?

“Yes, we do them, not all the songs but the strongest ones, like Rumba de la buena , Pa que la gente se entere , and It was I who told you taught . We use a ‘looped’ base, as is commonly said, of the different genres we address, but the rest of the instrumentation (percussion, metals, bass, piano, keyboards, etc.) is live. And we practically do not use the famous Autotune, only for a few effects, but never in the voice. That is why the Cuban still feels like his music, here they call it Cubaton, and Latinos identify it very well. It has something good, and you don't have to be a great dancer to dance it, you don't have to get so complicated and people like that".

Can you do some timba by having several non-Cuban musicians?

“Sí se puede y aquí en Miami hay muchos músicos no cubanos con capacidad para hacerla. Por ejemplo, en mi orquesta hay un venezolano en las tumbadoras, extraordinario, se llama José ‘Majito’ Aguilera. De hecho, los venezolanos entienden muy bien la timba porque ellos tienen en su folclor muchos ritmos con compases irregulares, por eso comprenden la síncopa y el contratiempo de nuestra música. Y es curioso porque, al mismo tiempo, le dan estabilidad al grupo, ellos tienen otros conceptos de la práctica de conjunto, y desarrollan su individualidad en el momento preciso que lo requiere. Es decir, que son muy talentosos pero tienen la disciplina del conjunto, que eso a veces a los cubanos nos falta un poco. En la trompeta está Javier Aponza que da unas notas impresionantes y es un estudioso de Alexander Abreu. Ya en el resto tengo bajo y piano cubanos. El piano es bien complicado, ahí sí trato de que sea siempre cubano porque entonces se notaría otra lectura que no es  la nuestra. No porque sea mejor o peor, simplemente es una cuestión de concepto. En el disco Like finger ring trabajó un bajista venezolano que se llama Rodner Padilla, aunque el bajista cubano actual para todas mis presentaciones en vivo (y quien grabó el álbum A Journey Through Cuban Music) es Cristóbal Verdecia”.

Aymée with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
Aymée with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

And if for the Cuban singer this decade has been of success and upward recognition, the project Wind and Time are already major words. Gonzalo Rubalcaba, one of those musicians from another galaxy, who had to be born in Cuba, has taken other colors from Aymée. Judging by how little it has been possible to disseminate audio-visual, as a project in gestation, if Nuviola is not in "total key" can not be said to be in "partial key". She is much more accurate and becomes a very useful and functional piece in the conception of something that goes beyond a series of concerts and stages. Viento y Tiempo is drawn as a refined portrait of Isle of Music, cheerful or nostalgic as the plot unfolds, inviting us to a kaleidoscopic look of more than a century of music. She knows it and can't hide her emotions when she talks about it.

“It really is something else, another window, another level, thought of another way. It was something we had conceived a long time ago but for work reasons, both his and mine, we had been postponing it. This year we managed to shape it and it is the summary of a life connected by music, by family, by the neighborhood, by many things. We are enjoying it very much. Surprisingly Japan asked us for the scoop and they recorded us live on the Blue Note in Tokyo, something that will come out as an album soon. That was the gateway to the project because we had actually conceived it by 2020. But we were closing the summer in many concerts in Europe. ”

Everything seems to indicate that Viento y tiempo will continue walking in 2020, but Aymée already began in January of this year to put voices to his new record production that she will launch in parallel. It will have a very typical name (which asked me not to reveal it yet) and will be focused on great themes of Colombian music. “It will be some salsa with timba and will have familiar Colombian songs. We believe that people like to remember popular themes and if we do it differently, a good job can be achieved. ”

Finally, I propose a mental exercise. If you could give all the concerts you wanted right now in Cuba, what kind of stage and atmosphere would you prefer: the intimate, the dance, the cabaret?

“I would like to start with a massive dance with as many people as possible and go to Santiago de Cuba. First I would like to warm up. I'm not from Santiago, I'm from Havana, but Santiago is a city that gave my sister and me a lot of love. Even when we were there with the A Journey Through Cuban Music project, they showed us incredible fidelity despite the passing of the years.

"Then I would like to go to Havana and introduce myself in all kinds of scenarios".

And it seems that she is doing it, with her music she is giving round trips to Havana ... and first-class ones...

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