Cuban Artist Aymee Nuviola on Embracing Her Black Identity Through Music: ‘We Have So Much to Offer’

Aymée Nuviola is a Grammy and Latin Grammy winner who’s keeping Cuban music at the forefront one song at a time. She’s a prolific singer, pianist, composer, and actress dubbed as «La Sonera del Mundo” who gained international recognition for portraying Celia Cruz in the Colombian telenovela Celia.

“There’s racism in Cuba,” she tells Billboard, referring to people in the industry who’d ask her to straighten her natural afro or say she would not succeed because she was not white.

“Sadly, the rejection comes from our own community,” she continues. “People would rather look elsewhere than look within their roots. I suffered a lot, but it only made me stronger. My self-esteem has always been very high and I have not been paranoid to believe that everything that happens to me or not is due to my skin color.”

Though she respects the term Afro-Latino, Nuviola feels more comfortable being called a Black woman. “I have always said that for me, saying ‘Afro’ is not as meaningful as saying Black, mulato, or mestizo. In Cuba, I’m often called mulata or negrita. It depends on the way it’s said to me, but I don’t see it as something offensive,” she says.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

It had been such a pleasure to be working on my “A Journey Through Cuban Music” project. For months we visited Havana to record the album, alongside some of the top artists in Cuba. We not only recorded an album, but we also recorded a documentary. The documentary is much more than just a making of the album. We went on a literal journey across the island to visit the people of different regions of the island, where we spoke with locals, musicians, luthiers, and musicologist that shared with us the history and importance of our Cuban music. Cuba has exported around 33 genres to the world, and we want to share the history of them with the world.

While we work on the documentary and wait for its release, I am awaiting a big first in my career. I’ll be performing several concerts in Tokyo alongside world-renowned pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, where we will be performing music we have recorded together including songs from my latest project. I’m excited to perform for a Japanese audience for the first time. Upon my return, I will also be performing at the Curacao North Sea Jazz Fest.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Two of the most interesting people I have interacted with were both my teachers. The first was my History teacher, she would wear a different hairstyle every week, and she would share with us a list of what she had to do to make sure the hairstyle lasted all week. Her playfulness is something that stays with me to this date.

The second teacher was my music history professor. He would come to class with a lit cigar and a flask, that we all believed was full of rum. He would speak about music differently than the rest of the professors. He would also share his anecdotes with great musicians, that had us all amazed by him. He had a clever way of teaching us and made sure he kept us interested.

Both these teachers inspired me to continue my career and helped shape who I am today.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Martin Luther King has inspired me the most, and I have the utmost respect for his efforts and his memory. He was the leader and opened the path for African Americans to fight for their rights. His “I have a dream” speech, is one that is known around the world and continues to hold true today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to give back as much as possible. As artists, we have a voice that can reach a broad audience, and it’s important to lead by example. I try to give my time to participate in telethons, during Hurricane Maria I alongside my record label gave and gathered donations for the people of Puerto Rico, and we made two trips to take supplies to the island. After the tornado in Cuba earlier this year, we again went to the island to help those in need.

I also like to think that my music brings goodness to the world, when anyone feels down or needs a pick me up, they can turn on my music and dance.

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