Cuban songstress Aymée Nuviola is known for her tropical fusion sound, but for her latest album she headed back to her homeland to truly string together a collection of Cuban classics.
A Journey Through Cuban Music, released earlier this year, was recorded in Havana where Nuviola was born, at the iconic Abdala Studios.
Known for fusing various genres, her sound is a mix of Latin with jazz, blues, and rock that come together to develop the genre known as “timba.”
“It’s the basis of my sound,” she told HipLatina.“I’m one of the first women to interpret the Timba genre in Cuba. The aggressive and very danceable sounds make people move.”
Nuviola, 46, has been singing professionally since she was nine years old as one half of the “Nuviola Sisters” and having a mother who taught piano meant she started young, learning how to play at three years old. She was named Cuba’s most talented on Todo El Mundo Canta when she was only 15 and the duo moved to Mexico and Costa Rica for job opportunities until Nuviola decided to go solo and move to Miami.
She released five albums including her 2017 release Como Anillo al Dedo, which won the Latin Grammy for best tropical fusion album in 2018. Now with A Journey Through Cuban Music, she’s taking it back to where it all began. The album features collaborations with several renowned artists including pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chuco Valdes, considered the father of Latin jazz, Cuban icon Omara Portuondo, and traditional Cuban son musicians, Septeto Santiaguero.
“I’d want for those hearing my album to appreciate not only the rhythm and the flavor of our music, but also its colorful sounds, its diversity, and its elegance,” she said. “This music isn’t only danceable, but also romantic, and brings joy to all who listen to it.”
Along with the album, she’s releasing a documentary of the same name focusing on the development of the album but also showcasing the beauty and culture of Cuba.
“It fills me with emotion to be the storyteller of our journey, but also to be a part of the journey as well. I was able to meet and interview people that have in-depth knowledge of our music and culture in general,” she said.
Nuviola is known as the “La Sonera del Mundo” for her improvisational skills though she says it took her a while to warm up to the nickname since she felt it came off as pretentious. Venezuelan salsa singer Oscar D’Leon coined that nickname for her and she now sees it as “an expression of someone that could share their talent and be appreciated by the world.”
She made history when she became the first Afro-Latina to represent Black History Month in the U.S. on Spotify. Those who identify as Afro-Latino make up 24 percent of the Latinx community in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, but they are hardly represented in mainstream media.
“I felt proud to represent my culture and my ethnicity, and it empowered me to work hard to continue representing,” she said of the Spotify honor adding, “It’s important for me to leave a good message and for the youth to have a good example and role model. It’s important for me to give them the best of me, not only as an artist, but also as a human being.”
She also made her acting debut on TV when she portrayed the iconic Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, for an 80-episode, hour-long series Celia for Telemundo in 2015.
Portraying a fellow Cuban, especially “La Guarachera de Cuba” — who died at 77 in 2003 — was no easy task according to Nuviola.
“It was a big responsibility to play our Cuban queen, and at her same level and personality that would be credible and accepted by the public,” she said. “I feel so happy that God blessed me with this opportunity that will live with me forever, and that has opened many doors for me.”
One of the tracks on the album, “Lágrimas Negras” is a 1929 bolero-son and one of the most famous songs by Cuban composer/singer Miguel Matamoros which was famously covered by Celia Cruz.
The album is a proud declaration of love for Cuba and an ode to the famed Cuban artists that originally recorded these songs. Tracks like the megahit by Celina González “Yo Soy el Punto Cubano” with the lyrics “le canto a Cuba querida la tierra de mis amores” and “Tres Palabras,” originally released by Cuban band, Orquesta Casino de la Playa and one of the most famous songs written by Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farrés. Nuviola, who worked on it with Portuondo calls recording that song, for which she also played the piano, one of the most emotional recordings on the album. This compilation of Cuban classics were revived for a contemporary audience but grounded in the Caribbean essence of its roots.
“Cuban music has been fused organically with American music for a while now, to the level that it sometimes happens unconsciously and spontaneously. Rhythmic elements, harmonies, and musical elements are present in the Cuban Timba genre, and that fusion is what helps us bridge the gap between Cuban and American music.”
Her home base of Miami is an obvious choice as a Cubana in the U.S. though she frequently visits Cuba.
As of 2017, Cubans make up 25.7 percent of the county’s total population with early 700,000 Cuban-born residents living in Miami-Dade county so Nuviola’s attachment to the city is unsurprising. But she’s honest about finding a balance between the sounds of her roots and the mainstream in the U.S.
“Miami for Cubans is like an extension of what happens musically in Cuba. The kind of music that plays in Cuba, you can also hear it here in Miami,” she said. ”I always keep my Cuban roots, but I also fuse it with the different styles of music found here in the United States, which helps me reach a wider audience.”
Though she’ll keep making the music she’s known for, she’d love to collaborate with Spanish singer Rosalia, fusing her Flamenco meets Latin urban sound with her “Cubania.”
But in the meantime she’s anticipating the release of the documentary, which currently doesn’t have an official debut date, and performing all over the world from Havana to Tokyo, sharing her love for Cuban music.
“I wish that the people who watch it will see it for what it is — a journey across our island and music created in the most humble way possible, touching more hearts than minds. You don’t have to be a musicologist to understand the importance of music for the Cuban people.”