A Swan's Song

After witnessing her stage bravado, her rheumatic and melodic vocalization, one finds it difficult to imagine that singer Aymee Nuviola faced many difficulties as an adolescent in her native Cuba. From the way she passionately croons, gracefully grinds her hips to the music, and spontaneously trades barbs with band members during instrumental solos, there's little to indicate she was once, she says, socially awkward.

But 39-year-old Nuviola, who possesses a commanding presence in front of regular crowds of hundreds, was extremely shy as a teenager, often afraid to even open her mouth around others. "I wasn't very talkative and was one of those girls who had a difficult time fitting in around a lot of people," she says. "I didn't like the way I sounded when I talked because I had a raspy voice."

Nuviola would regularly take a back seat to her more intrusive sister, Lourdes. "It's just something that was difficult to deal with [as a kid]," she says. "It's like being trapped in a box and not being able to find your way out."

Those inferiority issues plagued Nuviola well into her early teens, until a prolonged stay at a music school led to an unforeseen accomplishment. At age 16, she won the top prize on Todo el Mundo Canta, an amateur singing show on Cuban television. Soon thereafter, in the mid-Eighties, she began touring the world as a back-up vocalist for the Pachito Alonso Band, and figuring prominently in the timba movement all over the island.

During that time, Nuviola recorded six albums with the band in addition to working on a jazz album with NG la Banda founder José Luis Cortés. Her first major hit was "Que Manera de Quererte" ("What a Way to Love You"). Her piercing vocals turned the song into an instant success all over Cuban radio and television. Since defecting to Costa Rica 12 years ago, Nuviola has recorded two solo albums and collaborated on several others, including a duet with Andy Montañez on the Puerto Rican salsero's most recent production. A Miami resident since 2004, she now captivates audiences five nights a week at the stylish Latin eatery Bolero's.

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Fernando Ruano Jr.