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Concha Buika: I Feel the Warmer Side of Life When I Sing

Nenad Georgievski By

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When Spanish singer Concha Buika sings, songs uncoil from her like smoke. Whether she sings jazz classics, Jacquel Brel, Chavella Vargas songs or her own songs, there is a warm intimacy in her husky and seductive voice that easily envelops listeners. 15 years after her debut, Mestizuo, a record with jazz classics she continues her musical journey of exploring beyond the ordinary with records that are imbued with diversity from flamenco, soul, jazz and pop music to Afro-beat, Cuban music, and tango.

At heart, she is a flamenco singer, temperamental and tender at the same time. At an early age she started as a flamenco singer but very soon she branched out to welcome all the music that excited her. As a result, the music she has made since on her records honor all of these musics. Her albums such as Mi Niña Lola, (DROAtlantic 2006) Niña de Fuego (Casa Limon, 2008), La Noche Las Varga (Warner Music Spain, 2013), are a wonderful and diverse mixtures of covers and originals She is a libertine and her free-spirited attitude only adds to her appeal.

Last year she released Vivir Sin Miedo or "Living Without Fear," a response to the fear imbued world and which sends a powerful message with these songs. Buika is a one of a kind artist that never fits into any categorizations as she constantly searches ways to expand and enrich her music.

All About Jazz: What inspired you to be a singer? Were you a performer from an early age?

Concha Buika: My first time on stage was when I was around 16, 17 years old. Definitely, it was something that highlighted my life. I was something of a terrible person. I was enfant terrible. I was a disaster of a person before music came to my life. Actually, the first instrument that I wanted to play was drums. I wanted to be a drummer, but circumstances in my life have brought me to sing. It was so because music is the only world where we are not separated by ideas. Here we are completely equal. When I was a little girl there was a lot of segregation in my little village. Music was something that united everybody. That is why I feel the warmer side of life when I sing.

AAJ: As someone who was born in Palma de Majorca to parents from Equatorial Guinea, what music influences did your family have on you at an early age?

CB: My mama didn't make any difference between styles because she didn't understand and she didn't know the music from the world because she was from a very, very little town in Equatorial Guinea. She did not make a difference between heavy metal music from world music or classical music. She was dancing to everything and she loved all music of the world. When she discovered Iron Maiden or these heavy metal bands from the North she fell in love with their sounds because these were crazy sounds. Can you imagine what was it like for an African girl from a village that didn't even have electricity for the first time to listen to rock music? That was like an explosion of emotions for her. Then, the classical music, hip hop, funky music, because, if you remember, the '80s, were crazy years when it comes to music. So, in my house, my mama had a lot of albums from all kinds of genres -classical, flamenco, rock, funk, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson. Everybody was there. We didn't have TV. We didn't even have windows sometimes because the glasses were broken. We were seven kids, we had no money, but in my house music was playing 24/7, and that was something that I love. I appreciate that from my mama.

AAJ: Was she the one who instilled that love for a diversity in music?

CB: Yes, definitely. My mama taught me that music is the food for the soul. She taught me that there isn't any difference between styles. All those styles talk about the same feelings. All the music in the world talks about the same feelings -our feelings. One can find the same information in a song in China that is about love and will discover that it's the same in a song in the US that speaks about love. That's the same information. People that need love and people that love someone.

AAJ: How did you fall in love with flamenco music? This music is so much part of your DNA.

CB: That was the music that I was listening when I was growing up. I was growing up very close to a flamenco neighborhood and I would spend all my afternoons there. All my neighbors were Gypsy people and that was the music I was listening to when I was a little girl. So, to me, flamenco music is the music that I growing up with. To me, it is something that sounds very familiar.

AAJ: Who were some of the first flamenco musicians that have impressed you most?

CB: There were a lot of people everywhere. Flamenco is not a style no matter where you listen to it, in a bar, in your neighborhood, and it always sounds amazing. At the time, I remember there were a lot of Gypsy and flamenco singers that have made an impression on all of us like Porrina De Badajoz who was an amazingly talented singer. I'm playing with his grandson who is my percussionist and I'm a longtime fan of his grandfather. And those were the singers that impressed us when we were little kids. But, I will tell you again. We were surrounded by people who were amazingly talented people.

AAJ: Your music is a unique mixture of various strands of music from flamenco, tango, jazz, soul to pop and African music. In addition to that you've traveled worldwide and have played with musicians who come from different backgrounds and countries. What motivates you to stretch your boundaries so far?

CB: All my life it has been like that. The only thing I'm doing is represented in what I'm doing now. We are not just one style now. We don't have to act in the manner of "I'm just listening to rock music or I'm a heavy metal fan, or I'm a flamenco. We don't need to do that anymore. We can be everywhere. I'm just representing what we are now. Now we have the freedom to choose. We can choose what we want and now we discovered that we want a lot of things and not just one thing. Apart from that, we discovered that we can do a lot of things and not just one thing. Today, you can be a journalist, you can be a singer, you can be a lot of things at the same time. You don't have to be just a journalist today or only a journalist. You are able to do a lot of things. You are able to live in a lot of countries. You don't have to be a friend of just one flag. Today you can be a part of the world. This is something we have been fighting for. I'm not a special person, but a reflection of what we are.

AAJ: What stories do you feel these songs on Vivir Sin Miedo tell?

CB: After 4 world tours, I discovered that we are a lot more than what they tell us. They tell us that we hate each other, that we are at war, and they tell us a lot of things but we are more than that. We find ourselves within a big conspiracy. Now we live in an amazing world. I did 4 world tours and I discovered that we love each other for real. The people from the other countries don't even speak my language, and they don't understand my Spanish when I sing on stage. They have daily jobs and work hard every day. They spend their money to go to the theater to listen to someone who comes from another country that is supposed to be hated. I don't see that they lied to us on the TV when they say we are in a war. The world is in a state of war, we hate each other. I'm not saying that they are lying, but they are not telling the truth. Today, in every country that I play in, the only thing I find when I get to that country is people working like animals to survive. Nobody is thinking of hating another country. All of that is bullshit. The world loves each other, we love each other. We do for real.

AAJ: These are the words many want to hear. Recently the world saw an enormous refugee crisis with Syrians fleeing into Europe. I think that greed is the main instigator for all the crisis that is happening at the moment.

CB: That is the reason why my album is called Vivir Sin Miedo or To Live Without Fear. It is not that we have to live without fear. I will never be the wife of a man that has no fears. I will never be with a manager that has no fears.What I'm saying is that we don't have to live from fears. Everything is a scary. We live like robots. People are scared not to have an iPhone, a Whatsup app, a computer. People are scared to be here or there, to think this way or the other way. You cannot be a jealous woman because they don't look at you well. If I'm jealous, I'm jealous. What he fuck? I'm not saying that bad times are better, but I remember the '80s where I was going out on the street where half of my boobs would be out and nothing was happening. I remember those times where you could tell your opinion even if it was opposite to other's opinions. Today you have to have fear to be a companion. If you want to be a part of a team you have to be a scary person. And I don't agree with that.

AAJ: Do you think music, in general, can make a change in a society?

CB: Definitely! That is the reason why music is going through hard times now. It is one of the weapons against the mental slavery and they know that. They need us to keep on thinking that guilt is good. Believing in some concepts like guilt, where you have to feel guilty of what you have done is wrong. That is no good. You don't need to feel guilty for anything. I don't believe in guilt. I believe in responsibility. I know how to make myself responsible for what I didn't do right. I make myself responsible for what I have fucked up. And I offered myself to rebuild the thing.But I'm not gonna recognize guilt because it is not good. Because guilt is a poison in your mind. It is a useless emotion. If you did something against me I want you to know that you have done me something wrong, but I don't want you to be hurt. I don't want you to suffer. I love you and I don't want you to suffer. I just want to let you know that what you did hurts me.

AAJ: I'm curious about your jazz influences as your first record with consists of jazz standards. How has jazz influenced your singing and music?

CB: Firstly, I was living in a place where jazz music was a highlight. There were a lot of amazing jazz talents and musicians playing everywhere and there was a lot of American jazz music coming around. In Europe, the level of jazz music was very high and jazz was in our lives more than now. At the moment, it looks like it has disappeared a little. Before, jazz was pop music. I even remember that radio stations that just played pop music they also played jazz like "My Baby Just Cares for Me" by Nina Simone. These songs were present on the pop charts. There were a lot of musicians like Franco Battiato who was an Italian musician. There was music from all over the world. Swedish musicians, Norwegian musicians. There was a lot of music but jazz was there too. When I was a little girl first of all my mama was a jazz consumer. Believe me, she had everyone in her collection: Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Mingus, and many others. Jazz was present in my house 24/7. And you have to understand that for a mind of a child those crazy melodies by Coltrane or Parker sounded like a game. They sounded like crazy melodies so my sister and I we just played with those melodies. They were the only things we had. We didn't have money at home, we didn't have many things at home because my mama didn't have any money. But we had music to play. We would play music all day and sing those bebop melodies or solos. It was like a competition between my sister and me when we sang the bebop solos. Who would do it faster, who would do it funnier? That is why jazz is in my life because jazz saved my family's life.

AAJ: How do you approach classic songs like "Ne Ne Quitte Pas" or flamenco classics or jazz classics? How do you interpret the songs you cover and give them your stamp?

CB: Every time you get connected with a story, with a secret that is behind the lyrics of a song or behind the melody, you are connecting with your own story. Because there is a secret message in each song that is just for you. That helps you and your memories to carry on the weight of what they have done to you or what you did to them. So, I really think that the songs choose you. And I do think that we share feelings. We are all connected and united by tears. We share feelings. When I'm here writing a song about an experience that I had, I'm writing something that you've been through to sometimes. So when you listen to that song you connect with your own story. And if you have to talk about that song you are gonna talk about your feelings about your own story so all those songs are our history. When I have to sing I connect with my own history and what I sing is my own history. Maybe I'm singing the lyrics of "Ne Me Quitte Pas" but I'm singing my feelings and my memories.

AAJ: How did you hook up with Cuban pianist Chucho Valdez for the duet El Ultimo Drago? This record is a tribute to Chavela Vargas. Can you talk about the importance of her songs for you?

CB: We wanted to do that project because we appreciate all the things Chavela represents and has inspired us to do. For eg. She inspired us to be brave in front of the whole world when you know who you are and to be brave to defend yourself and to face the world. That is the reason why we wanted to do this album and to pay an homage to her. Because we wanted to thank her before she died. We wanted her to listen to us telling her thank you Chavella because she was a lesbian in those years and she had to fight very hard to be accepted. She was cast away by her family. Her family rejected her when she was 8 or 9 years old and she had to walk from one country to the other alone by herself to defend the way she was. Because she didn't walk back. She wanted to defend her idea of life. She was going to die a lot of times. She was kicked out of a lot of places for her condition. She endured and everybody loves her for that. That was a big lesson for all of us. Chucho Valdez and me we wanted to thank her for that. So it was an amazing experience that a big maestro like him wanted to participate. Chucho was great and beautiful.

AAJ: What are some of the projects you are working on currently?

CB: I'm working on an opera project about the history of Julia Pastrana, who was a Mexican woman from Sinaloa. She was born with hypertrichosis and was covered with hair. She even had two lines of teeth.People treated her like she was an animal. Patrana lived in the 19th century. When she was a little girl the people from her village when her mother died when she was 2 years old they blamed her for her death. That is why they sold her to a circus owner. She was brought to Europe and she was caged in a circus practically all of her life. She was living in a jail like an animal.On the other hand, she was a gifted person who spoke several languages, was an amazing soprano, but she was living in a cage with the monkeys because her surroundings believed that she was a half monkey and half human. She was called the monkey woman. But actually, she was an intellectually amazing person. I'm also working on my novel and I'm writing material for my new album.

Photo Credit: Javi Rojo

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