"Bola de Nieve married music and lives with it in that intimacy of pianos and bells, throwing the heavenly keyboards over his head. Long live his earthly joy! Cheers to his miusical heart," exclaimed the great Latin American poet, Pablo Neruda, on one occasion.
That musical heart, that earthly joy, was the sign that our beloved Ignacio Villa, known artistically as Bola de Nieve, always raised on stage, whom we evoked on the 49th anniversary of his physical disappearance, on October 2, 1971.
The magic of the art of this popular Cuban pianist and singer resided in making each song he performed his own, a full identification, and for that reason, he said it with such taste, expressiveness and quality that he turned that supreme act of singing into a lyrical nature.
His name will always be inextricably linked to that of the masterful singer Rita Montaner, who introduced him to the world from the stage of the Politeama in 1933. At that time, Bola de Nieve accompanied her friend and singer on the piano. Both constituted a perfect pair with a vocation to rescue popular Cuban music and that of the most renowned composers.
From that moment on, he would become a legend. Although he studied the piano little, he drank from the wisdom of the great exponents of the Caribbean nation: María Cervantes, Manuel Saumell and Ignacio Cervantes. He continued the Cuban tradition of saying that, added to his sensitivity, he gave splendor to a genuine art that is the spokesman of a popular feeling.
And that foundation was popular because his music was national, since according to the Cuban writer and ethnologist Miguel Barnet: "it expressed a process where the black grandfather and the white grandfather were in a happy and germinating fusion, a synthesis of the Cuban way of being."
Bola de Nieve added to his repertoire foreign pieces such as La vida en rosa, by Edith Piaf, for example, which made the French singer exclaim that nobody sang her song like that Cuban; also, he luckily added anthological Latin American songs such as La Flor de la canela.
Barbiere said in Italy that Bola didn't speak Italian well, but that nobody sang Monasterio Santa Chiara like him. And it is that Bola was a link between the peoples of Cuba and the world, our most joyful and prolific ambassador.
Perhaps for this reason, the famous Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier commented: "Bola de Nieve obviously makes us all agree. But he has had, above all, the necessary talent to agree with all the peoples of the world."
That genuine art was calibrated by the most demanding audiences of the time at the Carnegie Hall, the Café Society, the Hall of Fame, the Lara Theater in Madrid, the Chez Florence nightclub in Moscow, Beijing, Prague, Mexico City, among others.
Such success is understandable because Bola de Nieve embodies the Cuban idiosyncrasy like no other. In the words of composer Harold Gramatges: "With equal wisdom he handles the caricatured song, the serene Renaissance elaboration, the folkloric inflections of any country. His authentic musicality, his broad culture and his unparalleled grace make him a unique character within the art he cultivates. This has been recognized by the public in America, Europe and Asia. That's why our very Cuban Bola is universal."
Besides being a formidable performer, he composed memorable songs such as the unforgettable: Si me pudieras querer, Ay, amor and Drume mobila -whose lyrics were included in an anthology of Cuban poetry in 1939 by Juan Ramón Jiménez-; or Tú me has de querer -recorded by Pedro Vargas in 1940.
His very personal voice, his sympathetic spirit in one piece or another, his heartbreaking irony, his ancestral hoarseness, his unusual rhythm, his praised piano pedal, make this outstanding artist an exceptional being who transfigured everything into beauty, into new light.
CMBQ Radio Encyclopedia. Postal address: Building N, Calle N, between 23 and 21, Vedado, Havana, Cuba. Postal Code: 10400.
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