The recording artist and singer, Concha Buika, is a unique phenomenon in the contemporary, globalised music milieu. She was born in Spain, on the island of Mallorca. Her parents were political refugees from the former Spanish colony of Guinea Equatoreal.
The Buika family was the only African family in the neighborhood where they lived. It was with the local Gitano community that Concha found a second home. Strange as it may seem, learning to sing flamenco and absorbing the outsider culture of the Gitanos was what helped her to find a path to self-acceptance.
With four critically acclaimed albums on the international market Buika has become a bona fide star. Luckily for her, she is blessed with a unique, husky contralto voice that can not be mistaken for anyone else. On stage, its power is stunning. In person, she exudes confidence and self-possession but makes one feel at ease as she can disarm with refreshing candor and humour.
Buika is about to embark on her first major north American tour. Twenty-one cities are on the itinerary. I had the chance to chat with the singer recently, ahead of the tour.
Her last album; El Último Trago, is a tribute to the ranchera singer, Chavela Vargas. I began by asking her when was the first time she heard ranchera music.
Concha Buika: Well, that was when I was a little girl. My father left home and my mom used to hide her tears behind this music. Because, she didn’t want to cry in front of us. You know how African moms are. So, she used to play Mexican music and the music of Chavela and she used to cry and say “Oh what a beautiful song”. But, now that I am older, I realized that she use to cry for my father.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: So when you finally did meet Chavela Vargas, you were already familiar with her repertoire.
Concha Buika: Yeah sure because I knew all her music and I knew all her feelings since I was a little girl, so as soon as I found her, it was like a miracle for me.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Do you see similarities between rancheras and Flamenco.?
Concha Buika: I feel similarities between rancheras, flamencos, jazz, blues because they all say the same thing. They are all asking for the same things. Peace in the heart, peace here, peace here. I mean, we are always looking after the same things.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Was it your idea to record some of the songs that she had recorded and made famous early in her career?
Concha Buika: No it wasn’t my idea because I think that every time I play a record of Chavela or Duke Ellington I’m remembering them and calling them somehow. It wasn’t my idea. That was an idea from the magic of the music. I think the magic of the music is all these people we don’t see behind the project because we always see the artist on stage or in the videos but we don’t see the people who are behind, you know? And this amazing idea was from a little team of people that I am working with and of course I said yes because I thought it was a nice idea.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Your parents were born in Guinea Equatorial. Is there any part of the music from that country that is in the music that you have recorded so far this in your career?
Concha Buika: Oh sure. The African part in my music is in voice, in the colour of my voice, it’s in my smile, it’s in the colour of my skin, it’s in my blood, it’s in my intelligence, it’s in my love, it’s in my beauty. Africa is all over me. Don’t you see it?
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Talk about the process of molding the shape of the songs and the concept of the album in the studio. What was it like working with a great pianist like Chucho Valdés?
Concha Buika: Oh yeah, it was really easy because, I really think that people like me, like you, like Chucho Valdes are a new concept of Africa. A wonderful concept of Africa that’s not scary anymore. You know? So, I think that every time we get together with these new concepts, we finally get what we are looking for. For me, it’s really easy to work with African people.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: What has been the inspiration behind the different musical directions that you have followed so far in your career? What inspires you? And how do you decide what you are going to do next?
Concha Buika: Well, I don’t do it. I think that it comes from inside. I feel that if we could say all that we know, because I think that we do know everything, for real. We understand everything. And I think that somehow, I don’t know where in ourselves but I know there is a place where I can understand absolutely everything and I know absolutely everything and I understand everybody., you know? So I never decide what to do. I just let myself flow with what I have inside and the result is what you hear. I live inside my studio. My contact with the reality is my manager. So what I do is, when I write my books, and I paint my pictures and I write my songs, I give all to my manager and my record company and I forget it.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: You’ve become a global star and you are very popular in many countries. But I am curious to know how your work has been received in your own country; Spain.
Concha Buika: Well, I think that my home country is my heart. I think that my home country is in the heart of everybody. I feel that everybody is my couple, my husband, my wife. All of you are. So, I always think that everybody receives what I do the same way that they receive what they do. I mean, I think that we are equals. We are not the same but we are all equals. So when I am singing, I feel that you know exactly what I am talking about. Because I know from where I am singing, but I do not know from where you are listening, you know? So I really feel I am blessed everywhere I go, the same as you, the same as everybody.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Is there a singer that you would especially like to work with in future?
Concha Buika: Sure. Definitely. I would like to work with Miguel Poveda because I think that he is a free singer. He sings from his freedom and that is a blessing. I love that.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Do you have a vocal coach?
Concha Buika: What’s that?
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Someone who teaches singers how to improve their technique and how to care for and develop the voice.
Concha Buika: Oh sure. My son, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother. You know? Yeah sure. My own love for myself. I don’t think that anybody can show you how to sing in the same way that nobody can show you how to cry, how to eat, how to make love.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: But for a singer, the vocal cords are a muscle like any other and must be taken care of with exercises and being careful of what you eat.
Concha Buika: No. To live. Yeah. That is what takes care of your vocal chords. As soon as you realize that you are a good person and you want happiness and good things for everybody, you love everybody, you don’t worry about absolutely anything, not even your voice. Your voice is here. And it doesn’t matter if you have a beautiful or ugly voice. The ugly voice does not exist. The voice who wants to sing is beautiful. To sing is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you do it well or bad. To do it bad is not to sing. If you don’t sing, then it’s bad. But it you sing, then it’s all right. Taking care of the voice is to live, to eat, to hug your friends, to make love with the one you want. You know? Yeah, sex is beautiful for the voice. It’s the best thing for the voice. Yeah. Sure. Definitely. Because when someone touches you, you realize that you are here. For the voice, all you need is love. Love.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Are you the kind of artist who criticizes herself after listening to a finished recording? Do you listen to yourself and say, “Maybe I should have done it this way or another way”?
Concha Buika: Never. First of all because I never listen to the music that I have already done. I never listen to the music I have recorded. I never read the interviews I did. I never watch the videos of my singing. Never, because, I did it already. I don’t want to sit down and watch it again. It’s stupid for me. I’ve never seen a bird fly two times in front of my face. It’s ridiculous. I don’t need to relive the past. And then, I trust my singing, I trust myself, and I don’t make myself responsible for how it comes out.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: So, you’ve said that you don’t think about the past. What’s done is done. So tell us, what projects are you planning for the future?
Concha Buika: Well, I think that the future is a big lie. Yeah. Yeah. I think that the future is a big lie because we are always in the constant now. So we think about tomorrow but tomorrow never comes. It’s now. The moment is now. And what I’m doing now is my electronic music because I’m a great programmer, electronic programmer, and I am recording my new album.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: How many cities are you visiting on your upcoming tour? Does the tour include dates in Mexico and Canada?
Concha Buika: I don’t know. I’m like a soldier. They tell me go there, I go there. They tell go me this way, I go there. They tell me now it the time for an interview, I do it. I’m like a soldier.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: And what can we expect from you on the upcoming tour?
Concha Buika: I normally don’t expect anything from anybody or the world because I think that this is the best way to respect the natural things of the world. So I never expect absolutely anything. And, I don’t know what you expect.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Well I have seen you in concert before. It was spectacular but at that time you did not sing the Chavela Vargas songs. So I expect something equally spectacular, but different.
Concha Buika: Well, I think that every day is different, every heart is different, every time I see my face in the mirror it’s different, and I love that. I love the improvisation in the world.
Akenaata Hammagaadji: Wonderful. Do you have any last words you would like to leave us with?
Concha Buika: I love you.
AH] I graciously accept. Thank you.