It should be clear to anybody who has spent time around her, even for a short amount of time, that Aymee Nuviola doesn't have any problems attracting the masses wherever she goes.
Whether she's lingering backstage at a jazz festival in Coral Gables, where she went to check out childhood friend and international salsa star Lucrecia, or between sets during her own weekly gigs, there's always somebody who wants a piece of her. It could be Arturo Sandoval approaching her with his arms extended. It could be a regular at one of her shows, interrupting her in mid-sentence to make a special request. Or it could be a sixtysomething lady waiting patiently to greet her off-stage.
"I look at it as a good thing," says Nuviola outside of Havana Dreams Café, where she conducts her two-and-a-half-hour, three-nights-a-week performances. "To me it's a true indication that people respect and trust your ability as a musician. I'd be worried if I didn't get that kind of response, to be honest with you."
But lack of attention hasn't exactly been a problem for the Cuban singer/songwriter since she touched down in Miami last September. For example, take a recent Saturday night inside the darkened restaurant/bar. There was the tall, wide-eyed Nuviola firmly planted behind a keyboard in the middle of the stage as she made her way through "Yo Se Que Es Mentira" ("I Know It's a Lie") while the audience clapped along in unison. Then she dove into "Que Manera de Quererte" ("What a Way to Love You") before finishing the night with a improvisation-filled conga that got everybody dancing around the tables in a carnival-like atmosphere.
So what if her gig lasted a little under three hours? Nuviola's deep and rangy voice adds an element that makes it seem as if this full-fledged party could go on for an eternity. "I come here every night with the idea of giving them what they want," she says. "I'd like to think I know what my audiences like by now."
The 35-year-old performer, who decided to defect with her husband, conguero Robert Nuviola, in Costa Rica during a stop there in 1995, has had some trouble adjusting to life here. Shortly after coming to Miami this past September, she enrolled in Miami-Dade College in order to learn English. She is also trying to get used to the city's unique atmosphere. "I realized that the timba I was bringing from Cuba was different than the typical merengue, salsa, and cumbia that people are used to here," she says, and describes the timba as a mixture of conga, rap, and danzón.
Nuviola has also found time to write plenty of new material for her yet-to-be-released CD. But she wants to wait for the right situation. She doesn't want to be another local starlet on TV, singing somebody else's songs. "There are a lot of people that just show up on television shows with no material and really don't put together a good effort," she says. "I don't want to make the same mistake. I'll know when I'm ready."
Thanks to her mother, Adelida Suarez, an independent piano instructor in Cuba, Nuviola has been involved in music all of her life. Figuring her daughter would learn to appreciate it even more, Suarez sent Nuviola to another piano instructor and then to music school at the age of seven. But not until Nuviola was halfway through high school did she start singing.
"I had a raspy voice back then and wasn't quite as social as I am now," says Nuviola, who says she also dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer.
By the time she was sixteen, Nuviola and her sister Lourdes had risen to stardom in Cuba as cohosts of Todo el Mundo Canta (Everybody Sings), a popular variety show on the island during the late Eighties and early Nineties. In 1986, at the height of the show's success, Nuviola was invited by legendary music director Pachito Alonso, who is credited with being the first to incorporate females into Cuban salsa bands, to join his Pachito Alonso y Sus Kini Kini.
Nuviola recorded with the orchestra on six albums, including 1987's La Vela y el Africano (The Candle and the African Man). Around the same time, she contributed to NG La Banda founder José Luis Cortes's Siglo II (Second Century), a jazz album that also featured Sandoval and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
It was as a member of Pachito Alonso y Sus Kini Kini that Nuviola was asked to take a stab at Luis Rios's ballad "Que Manera de Quererte" ("What a Way to Love You"). With Nuviola on lead vocals, the orchestra turned the number into an infectious salsa hit, and it quickly became a fixture on Cuban radio and television.
From her midteens through her early twenties, Nuviola traveled the world, with permission from the Cuban government, to countries such as Spain, Hungary, Germany, and France, before she finally defected in Costa Rica. Although "Que Manera de Quererte" would be commercially popularized by Albita Rodriguez and Gilberto Santa Rosa a few years later, Nuviola is quick to point out that she brought it to the forefront. In fact, when she attended a Santa Rosa concert in Miami in 1999, she used the opportunity to pass along a note to the Puerto Rican salsero that she was the one who gave him the lyrics via phone several years earlier. Santa Rosa immediately motioned for her to come onstage.
"We performed the song together right there," she says. "That has to be one of the highlights of my career."
Nuviola, who already has a pair of solo albums to her credit, Tiempo A Renacer (Time to Be Reborn) and Yo Se Que Es Mentira (I Know It's a Lie), is currently working on a third that will consist of a handful of her own compositions, including "Timba con Salsa," a full-fledged tribute to salsa queen Celia Cruz and the many Puerto Rican salseros of the Sixties and Seventies; and "Contigo" ("With You"), in which she revisits a romantic relationship with an older man. "I've always been a little weary of singing my own songs so this will be different for me," she says.
Tagged as a sonera by some and a salsera by others in the industry, Nuviola has difficulty putting words together when asked to describe her own brand of music. "A lot of people have called me different things, but I'm just a singer with plenty of Cuba in here," says Nuviola, gently running her right hand across her heart.
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