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Buika: ‘I feel great solitude in Buenos Aires’

Concha Buika will celebrate her birthday here in Argentina on Sunday.
By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

‘Black Pearl of Flamenco’ presents her eclectic seventh album tonight at the Gran Rex

Concha Buika sits serenely in one of the hidden lobbies of her hotel in downtown Buenos Aires. The dimly-lit space is awash with staff and journalists ducking in and out, some with hefty cameras, others with lighting, and — from her staff at least — the odd whisper in her ear as she waits for the next round of questions.

“The Black Pearl of Flamenco,” as she’s known, has taken an unexpected step to the side of the genre that most often defines her, and she’s here in Argentina to show it off. La noche más larga, her seventh studio album, features a few new tracks as well as covers of songs from the likes of Roque Narvaja, Fito Páez, and Billie Holiday, which she’ll be presenting this evening at the Gran Rex, and again over the weekend in Rosario and Córdoba.

Fresh but uniquely Buika, the album was produced with her Cuban musician friends to offer up a sound that marries Buika’s husky intimacy in song with the sweet tunes of Cuban jazz, equally as robust perhaps, but at the same time, more social and inviting. Buika herself describes the album as a “photography of sound.”

“Even though you’re singing someone else’s song, you’re singing your own realities,” she says. “And even though you’re singing the secrets of another, you translate those secrets to your own past. That’s why they sound so personal.”

Originally from Majorca, Buika now finds herself living in Miami, where she has a different vantage point of life and the world, but one that seemingly never loses its richness.

“I always arrive a few days before my shows because I enjoy the solitude of Buenos Aires, a city where you can be intimate with just about everybody,” she tells the Herald. “If people remember you they don’t mention it, and if they mention it they do it with such elegance.”

For this coveted musician, the latest chapter in a career that spans 15 years has been nothing short of impressive. Aside from a relentless tour schedule — with gigs across Europe, throughout the Americas, and as far as Australia and New Zealand — Buika’s La nave del olvido has been nominated for this year’s Record of the Year at the Latin Grammys.

On a personal note, the 41-year-old — who’ll celebrate her birthday here in Argentina on Sunday — has shared with the world the thrill of new love, at shows and certainly in her music, while at the same time reflecting on the notion of death. Her father, the poet Juan Balboa, died in March.

“Love and death are concepts that we’re afraid of, but they’re also concepts that are so frequent and beautiful. They’re beautiful because, as the years pass, we continue to be unable to understand neither them nor the mystery that surrounds them,” she says.

“We’re already dying, it’s a slow death. So, he who’s afraid of death is actually afraid of life, because we’re already dying, and it’s marvellous. Love plays into all of this.”

The daughter of migrants from Equatorial Guinea (her father lived in political exile), Buika grew up in the Balearic Islands as a member of a tiny African minority community.

Buika suggests she feels a special connection to Africa, but notes that her heritage doesn’t make her unique in this sense.

“Thinking about place where people live beyond the limits of our fears makes us feel good, and Africa is one of those places,” she says. “Of course it faces some horrific realities as a continent, but I truly feel Africa lives in the hearts of everybody. Personally, I’m very proud of my African blood and heritage.”

With a hint of Africa in the sounds of Cuba, and a hint of Cuba in her album, Buika suggests the final product she and her fellow producers Iván “Melón” Lewis and Ramón Porrina were able to achieve with La noche más larga was largely spontaneous.

“Cuba is present in my album because I play with Cuban musicians. If they were Russian, it would have a Russian sound,” she says. “In the end, I simply let them be, and they me.”

@jaysonmcnamara

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