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Bola de Nieve: I am the song

Published: 2021.09.14 - 16:23:25  /  /  Ana Rosa Perdomo Sangermés

Ignacio Jacinto Villa (1911-1971), known worldwide as Bola de Nieve (Snowball), was heard to confess one day: "...I am the song; I neither sing songs nor perform them. I am." 

Pianist and composer with a very personal style, with an authentic Cuban touch, Bola de Nieve was unique and unrepeatable, both in his piano playing and, in his performance, full of sound, inherited from the musical heritage of his native Guanabacoa (in Havana), full of drums that imbued his songs with incomparable accents. 

And all this in his beginnings thanks to Inés, his mother, who encouraged him to enroll in theory and music theory with the maestro Gerardo Guanche, and piano at the Matéu conservatory in Guanabacoa. She, who was always known as the cheerful rumba dancer, the wonderful storyteller, friend of musicians, writers, and painters, exemplary hostess of parties that always ended in a box rumba, instilled in her son from an early age the love and passion for music, for the whole song. 

That is why his childhood was spent in the world of music and dance at the bembé parties and, later, with the help of the Cuban singer Rita Montaner, who gave him that nickname, he performed at the age of 22 in front of an audience of four thousand at the Politeatro in Mexico. For 18 years both Cuban artists toured many countries, including Mexico, the United States, France, Spain, Venezuela, and Argentina. 

Bola, one of the unmistakable voices of Cuban music, was not only a pianist accompanying great Cuban musicians such as Ernesto Lecuona and Esther Borja, but also dedicated himself to composing and singing, whose performances of a very personal stamp still distinguish him. 

Ay amor, Bito Manué, La flor de la canela, Chivo que rompe tambó and Tú no sabe inglé are some of the songs remembered in his voice, and he stood out as the author of anthological pieces such as Si me pudieras querer and Vete de mí. Despite his successes abroad, no Cuban record label recorded with him until after the revolutionary triumph. He only managed to do so with 93 pieces of music, in almost forty years of artistic work. 

When asked about his repertoire in those moments of triumph, he did not hesitate to answer: "I choose the songs I perform for pleasure. When I like a song, I study it until I find out all the corners it may have in its lyrics and music. I occasionally release a song, and when I do, it's mine forever."

However, Bola de Nieve, without being an excellent singer, was able to take over every auditorium when his fingers took possession of the keyboard of his pine tree. Moreover, he knew himself, he never imitated or emulated other performers with his rough, husky voice, and he gave the song the necessary intention to express his feelings. 

In his performances he frequently exchanged with the audience; he spoke to them, made jokes, commented on everything imaginable, and sometimes brought old stories to the stage, in which characters appeared that only he masterfully incorporated. He used his expressive resources, ranging from melody, rhythm, effects to the message of the texts, and with this, he gave strength to all his presentations. 

Nicolás Guillén, Cuba's National Poet and one of his dearest friends, masterfully defined the charisma and charm of the versatile singer when he said: "Bola will remain in history and what is more poetic, in legend, wherever history is powerless to explain him to us." He successfully cultivated the Afro-Cuban song, of which his interpretations of Motivos de Son, with texts by Guillén, stand out.

In addition, writers such as Rafael Alberti, Alejo Carpentier, Efraín Huerta, Pablo Neruda, and singers such as María Grever, Agustín Lara, and Miguel del Prado (in addition to the writers and singers mentioned above), shared the stage with this great musician, who felt, "so Latin American that I have no nationality when it comes to the continent."

Bola de Nieve felt great affection for Cuba, always supported the Cuban Revolution, and emphasized the significance of the Cuban Revolution, which remained in the hearts of Cubans of various generations and will last forever. 

On Havana nights, his favorite venue was the Monseñor restaurant, located on 21st and O streets in Vedado. He also frequently gave recitals at the Napoleonic Museum, and always at midnight, he performed in concerts at the Amadeo Roldán Auditorium, where a large audience enjoyed his performances. 

This 11 September, the 110th anniversary of his birth, Cubans are commemorating his successful artistic career, both in Cuba and beyond its borders; in particular, the Casa de los Artistas de Guanabacoa, in the town where the musician was born and where his remains rest - as well as being the cradle of great figures of Cuban culture - will dedicate the day to exhibiting the best of his life and work, to remember his repertoire and his perpetual smile, the one that always distinguished him.

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