Ignacio Villa, the well-known Snowball

Ignacio Villa, the well-known Snowball


By Irene Ferrer

A very Cuban and universal artist, Ignacio Villa, Bola de Nieve, conquered the most diverse audiences in the world with his particular charisma, his peculiar way of interpreting songs and his immense talent.

Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández was born on September 11, 110 years ago in the Havana town of Guanabacoa, lavish in Afro-Cuban cultural manifestations and the birthplace of prominent artists, such as the pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona, and the singer and actress Rita Montaner, La Única , as the Cubans call her. His family was humble but, especially his mother, was part of the festive, optimistic, musical fabric of the town, and Ignacio, who aspired to be a doctor in Pedagogy and Philosophy and Letters, for economic reasons ended up becoming one of the great of Cuban culture of all times.

In a very incomplete summary paragraph about his beginnings, it can be said that from the age of eight he studied, without graduating, at the Mateu Conservatory, he dedicated himself to playing accompanying piano in silent film screenings when he was very young to help the family, he passed on to professional orchestras, famous singer Rita Montaner discovered him when he accompanied her on the roof of the Sevilla Hotel, and took him on a tour to Mexico in 1933.

And it was she, in that nation, who made the nickname of Snowball so popular, that forever identified the artist, contrary to the color of his skin, which he defined as a brownie. In that country, where he performed on different stages throughout his career and which he was always considered endearing, he made his international debut as a soloist at the Politeama theater, replacing, beyond the piano, Rita Montaner, with the presentation of You don’t know English (Tú no sabe Inglé), Vito Manuel, with Afro roots, music by Emilio Grenet and lyrics by Nicolás Guillén. 

Emblematic theaters of America, Europe and Asia witnessed his grace and elegance, and he shared the stage with notable figures of the time. In his very personal way of saying, he interpreted emblematic themes in various languages, in addition to Spanish. When she appeared in Havana in the 1950s, the great Edith Piaf said she felt ashamed of her when singing her theme La Vie en Rose in the Land of Bola de Nieve, whom she described as the best interpreter of that song.