In Cuba, the great singers have their reign. Ignacio Villa, Snowball, is the songwriter Cuban, a phenomenon that occurs very few times in a century.
Bola drank from the sap of the black songs, proclamations, the narratives of slaves. Everything enveloped and magnified it, with grace, naturalness, magnetism and a lot of ingenuity. He turned what could be a parody into a very elaborate art, elevated to excellence. He was a sovereign spectacle, dressed as a lord English, with all grace, dared to dance rumbitas and even a cancan. It was a torrent of sensations, from the erotic, the ingenious, the enthusiastic and the tragic. It was multifaceted, ranging from a lied sentimental to compositions of pure Afro-Cuban roots.
We check it in Afro topics like Vito Manué, by Emilio Grenet; Mama Ines, Black bembón and Perfect momby Eliseo Grenet.
“I am not exactly a singer,” expressed el Bola in an interview with him for Revolution and Culture, in 1981, “but someone who says the songs, who gives them a special meaning, a meaning of their own, using music to underline the performance . If I had a voice I would have sung seriously, I would sing opera, but I have the voice of a manguero, I have the voice of a seller of peaches, of plums, so I resigned myself to selling plums sitting at the piano. When I interpret someone else’s song, I don’t feel like that. I make it mine. I am the song that I sing; whatever its composer. So when I don’t feel deeply about a song, I prefer not to sing it. If I sing a song because it is fashionable, but I do not feel it, then I cannot transmit it, I cannot give anything to those who listen to me. I understand by art to give things as one feels them, putting one’s own sensitivity at the service of the author, and establishing that current that makes the public laugh or cry, or remain silent ».
Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández was born in Guanabacoa at dawn on September 11, 1911. His parents, Domingo Villa, a cook, and his mother, Inés Fernández. There were 13 siblings and few of them survived, because after the postwar period (World War I) the conditions were very unfavorable.
His first years at school were stormy, as his classmates, to annoy him, lashed out at him and made fun of him. They called him by the nicknames “Mud Ball” and “Rag Ball” and other expletives like that.
When he was very young, he was taken to the José Mateu Conservatory, where he began in music with a bandurria and a ramshackle pianito. And this last instrument seduced him. There he did not manage to finish his studies, but he prepared himself personally. His best musical school was that of his own mother, a storyteller, entertainer of parties and saraos, rumba dancer, singer of romances and zarzuelas.
The whole family lived among congos, carabalíes, cabildos and carnival groups. The mother organized gatherings until dawn, village parties; In that world of Santeria and folklore, of babalaos, bembés and touches of congas, the boy Ignacio grew up.
At just 16 years old, when the son took off in Havana, he enrolled in the Normal School for Teachers, in the San Isidro neighborhood. In 1930 the educational center was closed and his chances of becoming a Doctor of Pedagogy, Philosophy and Letters were frustrated. But one of the teachers had told him with certainty: “You have taken the wrong path. You are an artist.
To survive, in neighborhood cinemas he accompanies the silent films that were screened. He does it in Fausto and Carral. He also plays for five pesos with the Gilberto S. Valdés orchestra, at La Verbena de Marianao.
In 1929 he dared to appear at the National Theater imitating an Argentine actor and suffered his first failure. The young man was audacious, persevering, as Nicolás Guillén said: “You have to have boluntá, that the salaión is not, for life.”
Claim to fame
Fate pursued him, and in 1932 luck arrived, as the diva Rita Montaner hired him to appear at the Rood of the Hotel Sevilla.
The great leap was reached in 1933 on his first trip to Mexico, accompanying Rita Montaner. It was really Rita who made the nickname popular, by having it performed in public at the theater in Mexico: Rita Montaner and Bola de Nieve; That was the international baptism.
Bola’s biggest challenge was on that trip to Mexico, when on one occasion Rita became hoarse and harshly told her pianist: “Well, you don’t say you’re an artist, then go out and sing.”
The great Bola once recounted that experience: «They put a guarachero shirt on me and threw me with a microphone. I left nervous, I told the musicians that I did not know what I was going to do. People were very funny about that and stood up to applaud without me doing anything. Stunned I sang Vito Manué you don’t know English and it was tremendous; that was my baptism of fire internationally.
Then there would be hits at the Cardini restaurant, on Morelos street. “Mexico is the greatest thing for me … I don’t know how to live without Mexico, without tequila, without chili peppers, without tortillas.”
In 1941 he appeared at the Tropicana cabaret with Rita Montaner and Chano Pozo, in the production Congo Pantera. Later he is applauded at the Montmartre cabaret. In 1947 he performed in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. On that long tour, he was highly applauded at the Colón Theater in Buenos Aires. In 1948 he conquered Spain together with the great Ernesto Lecuona, praised by Jacinto Benavente (Nobel Prize in Literature), Andrés and Rosita Segovia. In the City of Light: Paris, he performs at the famous Boite Chez Florence, where he is compared to the songwriter Maurice Chevalier; after presenting his version of Life in Pink, of which Edith Piaf lists the best interpretation.
He continued on tours of New York, performed at Carnegie Hall, where he had to appear nine times on stage. The New York Times calls it a “true revelation.” It is considered a saidus, al nivel of Nat King Cole y Maurice Chevalier.
Of Bola, the Nobel Prize in Literature Pablo Neruda said: «He married music and lives with it in that intimacy of pianos and bells, throwing the keyboards from heaven over his head. Cheers to his sonorous heart ».
The ball that I remember
The last time I saw Ignacio Villa was in the presentation he gave on the evening of waiting on July 26, 1971, half a century ago. As night fell, Bola was alone on stage and I inquired about his repertoire. We talked about many things that time, at the Amadeo Roldán theater, in El Vedado.
Bola de Nieve passed away on October 2, 1971 in Mexico. Their duel was dismissed by Nicolás Guillén, who said: «Let’s see Bola as always. Bola with his piano, Bola with his tailcoat. Ball with his smile and his song ».
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Snowball, a sovereign spectacle – Juventud Rebelde