Nicolás Alejandro Olívola, a young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, makes and produces music | Photo courtesy of Nicolás Olívola

Argentinian man with muscular dystrophy sings despite the odds

The first time I sang in front of a large group of people, I feared I would lose my breath, or my throat would close. While I practiced for my performance, I wondered if my nerves would overcome me.

Cristian Dominguez
Interview Subject
Nicolás Olívola is a young Argentinian musician and composer who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He has lived in a wheelchair since he was 15. He relentlessly chases his dream to build a solid career as a musical artist. Learn more about him on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.
Background Information
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a neuromuscular disease characterized by progressive muscle atrophy and weakness, as a consequence of the degeneration of smooth, skeletal, and cardiac muscles. This motor disability is a hereditary disorder that has no cure, but there are treatments that provide the patient with a better quality of life, such as physiotherapy and medications to minimize symptoms.

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, DMD affects the X-chromosome and therefore males, while females are carriers. About 1 in 5,000 live male births report DMD. Onset of symptoms occurs between 3 and 5 years old.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—I have not had the strength to stand for more than 15 years now. Day after day, I face the challenge to overcome a disorder that cannot be cured.

Despite my battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy [characterized by progressive muscle degeneration], music is my refuge.

It gives me dreams and the desire to one day be a musician who makes albums and graces the stage to share my art.

Lifelong treatments for muscular dystrophy allow young man to sing

For as long as I can remember, I was different. Back in school, though my classmates treated me nicely, I felt shy. Walking proved difficult as I lacked strength and easily lost my balance. Kids did not play with me at recess, so I often stayed back, listening to music in the classroom.

My weekly routine, since I was 5 years old, includes treatments three times a week with doctors. Medication eases my pain, and physiotherapy helps me breathe. Using a self-inflating pump called an Ambu, I do manual exercises to carry air to different parts of my lungs.

A little bit of air travels to the vertex well at the top of my lungs, then to the middle, and finally, fills the well below the area attached to the diaphragm. My shortness of breath begins to ease.

Breathing properly and not getting agitated is crucial, because otherwise, I could not sing.

Formal musical studies inform compositions for disabled artist

The first time I sang in front of a large group of people, I feared I would lose my breath, or my throat would close. While I practiced for my performance, I wondered if my nerves would overcome me. On the contrary, I discovered that singing in front of a large group of people is actually easier than singing in front of a few.

Performing in my parish, I found my true dream: to sing to people and be a musical artist. It seemed logical to pursue musical studies, gain more tools, and learn to use my voice better. I learned to compose without an instrument by writing lyrics, humming them, and watching the melodies emerge.

My teacher helped me determine which voice to use. For example, my chest voice does not bother my breathing, but fatigue comes quickly if I keep my voice high or shift to my head voice. It feels like I am running out of air. I must limit my falsettos and melismatic singing, but I adapt to the possibilities.

Knowing this empowers me to adapt my composition to what I can or cannot do with my voice. I work at not tiring so I can sing.

Nicolás in his home studio
Nicolás in his home studio | Photo courtesy of Nicolás Olívola

Musician appears alongside Argentinian celebrity Guido Kaczka

The COVID-19 pandemic cut short numerous projects. I sang at one festival in Pilar before using lockdown to compose new songs. The time allowed me to begin shaping the melodies swirling in my head.

Expanding my social media from Facebook and YouTube to include Instagram, I could communicate with more people. In video calls I listened to their feedback, and I began producing my own music.

Success never comes without bumps in the road. Producers invited to a television appearance with Guido Kaczka, an Argentinian celebrity, with only one day’s notice. Nervousness swallowed me. I prepared and practiced one song, but they asked to perform another without my lyrics or music stand. Compassionately, Guido wrote out the lyrics and gave me the paper to use. I desperately wanted to win the audio equipment for my brother, who has the same disease as me.

Today, I have my first professional video uploaded to my social networks. Several songs are complete: one for my niece, one for a friend in the Córdoba province, and one for my mom.

Even with muscular dystrophy, dreams can come true

I love pouring my emotions into my music, writing the lyrics and the melody. As I hum the different parts of the song, I separate them with variations of tonality.

Working with a friend on the guitar, I make ballads, pop, tango, and new urban sounds. I write most of my songs with family and friends in mind, but also make music for my future love. As it plays, I hope someday love will touch me.

The road may not always be easy. There aren’t always opportunities for someone like me in Argentina, but the pandemic pushed me to become more creative. I’ve discovered new ways to produce and promote myself.

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Cristian Dominguez is an Argentinian journalist by professional training who is passionate about music, languages, and cinema. In his free time, he shares these interests with friends, acquaintances, and other students. Cristian is currently continuing his studies toward a degree in Political Science, Communication, and Management because he wants to eventually venture into international politics.