Buika believes in playing live without a safety net
Talking to Concha Buika is like taking a trip around the world, and appropriately, that’s what the Spanish-born diva is doing when the Straight catches up with her in São Paulo, fresh from Rio de Janeiro and headed for Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, on her way to Vancouver. Then it’s home to Miami. She also has a pad in Brighton where she goes occasionally, though she doesn’t have a favourite pub.
“I’m a nomad, I’ve been living in a lot of places, in England, in Spain, in Las Vegas, and I tour worldwide,” says a very, very relaxed Buika on a cellphone in South America. “Miami is nice and for work it’s great, in seven hours you’re in Europe, in seven hours you’re in Brazil. And you’re right next to Cuba.”
Buika is known for her free spirit and her astonishingly versatile voice, which ranges from the softest whisper to a gut-wrenching cry, often in swift succession, with music that in fresh and imaginative ways twines threads of flamenco, pop, blues, contemporary jazz, and Caribbean traditions. When she performs here she doesn’t know if she’ll be doing songs from her excellent new album La Noche Mas Larga (The Longest Night). Buika doesn’t make set lists.
“I don’t prepare anything before a show. I’m very brave. I feel like an animal, like a lion. I want to go on-stage without knowing what I’m going to sing because that’s something unbelievable to feel.”
So the musicians don’t know what they’re going to play? “Not exactly. I talk to them before and say, like, ‘Do you know the song “Siboney”?’ and whether he says yes or no doesn’t matter. I sing. Follow me. Come on, I’m your teacher, man. You’re not scared of music, come on, seven notes, majors and minors, and it’s music that you know. Follow me. Yes. We’ve been fighting for music, we’ve been studying these seven stupid notes for years and years and years. If I tell you ‘Follow me’ and you tell me ‘I don’t know what to play’ you’re not ready to be on-stage. I’m sorry. That’s my opinion. If you don’t agree with me don’t go with me on-stage.”
The charismatic Buika never took lessons. The stage is where she learned to sing. “With no fears. It’s the best school,” she says. “When we are focusing on what we know we are limited. There’s a line, and when we leave that line we are completely ignorant about everything and we play with that freedom. I think that is where you get the true sound that you have—when you forget what you know.”
In a similar go-for-it way she taught herself to speak English and French. “I was in France at a radio station and this girl wanted to interview me but my translator was late,” Buika says. “And I was, ‘Come along, let’s do it. I don’t understand a word of French, but come on, girl, you know that you want to communicate with me. Imagine it’s the only thing we can do to survive. This is our job, let’s do it.’ And we did it, papi! And I understood everything.
“I don’t know how but I did it, you just face it,” she adds, right before breaking up in croaky laughter.