CONCHA BUIKA / “Mi Nina Lola”
When one falls in love, one’s critical faculties vis-à-vis one’s beloved are suspect. It’s not that we lie about our lovers, it’s just that it’s natural to be reluctant to critique those who are our significantly passionate others. So, I’m going to admit straight up: I’m in love with Concha’s singing. 1. I don’t speak Spanish much beyond hola / adios. Most of the time I don’t specifically know what Concha is saying. But it don’t matter. I believe her anyway. Why? Because the way Concha sings, it sounds like her whole being be vibrating. Hell, I probably could listen to her sleeping, record it and listen to it over and over. (Damn, Kalamu, boy, you got it bad. So what? Far as I’m concerned, that’s good.) 2. María Concepción Balboa Buika, born 1972 in Palma de Mallorca. Palma is the capital city of the Spanish island of Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic islands located in the Mediterranean Sea. Concha was reared in a gypsy neighborhood. Her parents are from Equatorial Guinea. And that’s about all the facts I know regarding Ms. Buika’s background and personal life. Oh, I know she is one hell of a vocalist. 3. She started her career where many singers stop. Early on Miss Lady was a House Diva. Wrote and sung bunches of club songs that charted throughout Europe. “We Play House Music” is self-explanatory. “Everyday” rather than straight-up house actually sounds closer to a jazz track with a dance floor flava. I don’t know why, but rather than continue going with what was working, Concha set off in other directions. She traveled to London and did a gig in Las Vegas for a hot minute. Much to the disappointment of legions of club goers, Ms. Buika pulled up stakes and split. Concha left House far behind. 4. There is a little known album—funny, here is a singer who is relatively new on the scene but she has scored with two successive albums and somehow has managed to have a secret debut album. Most online biographies don’t even mention Mestizuo. Mestizuo is almost a great album. She has great phrasing as a jazz vocalist and an absolutely unerring sense of rhythm and pacing to go with her beguiling, raspy voice that is both surprisingly strong and extraordinarily agile. Mestizuo sounds like a demo rather than a full-fledged album. Most of it is a duo with pianist Jacob Sureda who is absolutely masterful with his sensitive accompaniment, subtle and always interesting harmonic variations, and a soft touch that gives the music a floating quality supporting Concha’s airy flights. If Concha’s grasp of English had been stronger, this would be an outstanding recording. Although it was released in 2006, after her rise as a House Diva, most of the recording was done in 2000. I am perplexed how it is Concha got so deeply into jazz. Even when she mangles the syntax (especially noun/verb agreement), she nevertheless gets to the feel of jazz. Listen to how she concludes “My One And Only Love.” That closing phrase is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not easy to do, and it's even more difficult to conceive of. If you listen to her albums in chronological order, Mestizuo is an auspicious starting point but it’s also a feign because just like Concha left the House, she also skipped out on being a Smooth Jazz lounge act. I don’t know but I get the feeling Concha has diverse musical interests, a seemingly inexhaustible ability to work different genres, and most probably an insatiable hunger and unquenchable passion for singing. I also get the feeling that Mestizuo was not meant to be a debut album. But all of that is speculation. Again, what is factual is that the sister can naturally sing. She is a true multicultural wonder. House to jazz is no easy transition and yet, after acing one leap, instead of settling Concha stays on the move. 5. From here on in, I’m mostly telling you what I feel because my 200-plus collection of flamenco albums and my decades-long interest in the Spanish music notwithstanding, I don’t “know” diddley about flamenco. So after burning down the house and peeping jazz standards, Concha produces two albums in quick succession. Buika and Mi Nina Lola (2007). Buika mixes contemporary production techniques with modern flamenco. It is very strong, indeed, I might say super-strong except it is no match for Mi Nina Lola, which mixes flamenco and jazz using acoustic instruments. So when Concha digs her roots we get flamenco and jazz with touches of contemporary, hip-hop influenced pop. Again, it is both totally unexpected and totally delightful. The material is first rate. The arrangements are both appropriately and paradoxically both spare and simultaneously rich. The conceptual beauty and handsome execution notwithstanding, the real unifying chord is Concha Buika’s exquisite vocal work. I had a hard time choosing the feature song. Finally, I boiled it down to “Nostalgias” and “Mi Nina Lola.” “Lola” got the nod simply because it is her major hit throughout Spain even among hardcore flamenco critics. One man noted he disliked the strings but absolutely adored the singing. One other small note: Concha’s judicious use of English phrases as hooks and as part of choruses helps non-Spanish speaking listeners relate to her music. I don’t think it’s accidental but at the same time I don’t think it is a commercial calculation. I think Concha Buika is genuinely and deeply smitten by jazz and evidences it throughout her recordings. In many ways she represents one of the most authentic black diaspora voices in contemporary music. Or as she notes in “New Afro Spanish Generation,” her anthem from Buika, she represents a quiet revolution. Go here to see her video for “New Afro Spanish Generation.” 6. Progress. Collective. Multi-cultural. That’s the way the black world is moving. Has to move. We are too diverse to otherwise be able to stick together. Concha Buika is pointing the way forward. Embracing cultural elements foreign to her birth on the one hand while on the other hand remaining true to the culture in which she was reared, all the while affirming her African identify. That’s our future, y’all. Either we will forward together, embracing each other, or we will fall apart. This is beautiful music reflecting the beauty of our diversity. Ole! —Kalamu ya Salaam An interesting musician Interesting music from an interesting musician. Very interesting music, actually. The first thing I notice about Concha, as Kalamu noted, is her voice. There's all of that power mixed with the smoky raspiness. Plus, there's an agility in the way she negotiates her vocal runs. Concha is a very talented singer. The second thing I notice is the "Spanish" sound that runs through all of her music. I know even less about flamenco than Kalamu, but I do hear how that kind of stomping rhythm that I associate with music from Spain often shows up in Concha's music. But in her case, it's very varied because sometimes it's there full-on, sounding almost like straight-up flamenco, but then other times, it's so subtle it's a virtual suggestion instead of a sound. And last, I notice the experimentation. I notice how she seems unsatisfied with settling into one particular style or technique. Consistent with my prejudices, I don't like the more club-sounding stuff, but I enjoyed all the rest of it. And the feature track, "Mi Nina Lola," is fantastic, strings and all. —Mtume ya Salaam
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