Crisscrossing the lines

Internationally acclaimed singer Concha Buika has little regard for boundaries, either in her art or in her day-to-day life.

Concha Buika 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Concha Buika 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Concha Buika is a natural choice for Idan Raichel’s world music series at the Opera House in Tel Aviv (February 11, 10 p.m.).
Buika – who was born Maria Concepcion Balboa Buika – comes from Palma de Majorca in Spain.
Her family originates from Equatorial Guinea in West Africa and she grew up among Spanish Romani people (gitanos).
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the 38- year-old singer’s five albums to date have incorporated material from numerous genres, from flamenco to jazz and soul, to rumba. Her eclectic approach has borne fruit in record sales and in concert halls around the world, and her 2008 release, Niña de Fuego, was nominated for the Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
She has also collaborated with artists from a wide field of artistic endeavor, including Cuban- American jazz pianist Chucho Valdes and celebrated Spanish film director Pedro Almodavar.
The latter cast Buika in his new movie La Piel que Habito (The Skin That I Inhabit), due to be released in September, and has become something of a guru to the singer.
It quickly becomes apparent that Buika has little regard for boundaries of any type, either in her art or in her day-to-day life.
“I don’t understand anything about styles,” she declares. “I only recognize notes and chords. I don’t have any musical preferences.”
Buika attributes much of this to the trials and tribulations she endured as a child.
“As the only black child in Palma de Majorca I had a very tough time. Maybe that’s why I connected with the Romani, because they were lonely just like me.”
So does Buika feel she has any roots at all? Or is she the definitive free spirit? “It’s not about being a free spirit. I think that I have to be sincere with the reality of the life I live.
I’m second generation in the country, in Spain.
My grandparents and my parents are from Africa.
I was born in Majorca, and I have to recognize that all what I have learnt in my life, all the information that I have in my head, is coming from a lot of places in the world.
“So I have to recognize that I belong to my surviving life.”
Buika’s childhood experiences not only gave her music; they also left her with a finely honed survival instinct which, she says, can come in handy in her line of work.
“I think that to do this job, and to have this career, and to satisfy everybody you have to lose part of yourself as a human being. Every time you improve as an artist you deteriorate as a human being.”
That sounds pretty grim.
“You begin to work 12 hours a day, and you begin to smile to a hundred thousand people every week, and you begin to say ‘I love you’ like 50 times a week, or a day… I mean I’m a writer, and I know the responsibility behind these words.
“But when you are an artist and you have to be a good artist, you have to say ‘I love you’ to a lot of people that you don’t know. And it sounds crazy, it is crazy, that’s the reason why I say that you are less [like a] human, and more like professional.”
It sounds as if Buika might have been better off in a different profession. However, she says she did not have any choice.
“I’M AFRICAN, and to me music is a need. It’s the same as food or water. And it’s like, first of all, the first time in my life that they told me that I’m going to get paid for singing, I was like… why? I couldn’t understand that, it was crazy for me. They’re going to give me money because I can sing? “It’s like a prize. The prize to me is to sing. So I thought that for the money that they give you, you’re going to have to do something else than sing.”
Considering her packed performance and recording schedule, what else does Buika find time for? “I do a lot of things other than singing. What I would like to do is just wake up in the morning, have my computer and my Logic, and program my songs. I’m an electronic programmer – you know, electronic music programmer. I would also like to go to school with my [11-year-old] kid every day.”
With all the sacrifices, Buika has evidently achieved great success over the years. Then again, success comes in many shapes.
“To me, success is to open the fridge and to see a lot of amazing food. To me, success is to see your son and to see him smiling, and to go in bed and to see that you start getting white hair and you’re still being that beautiful for your husband, or your wife, or whatever.
“To me, success is a lot of things and I have been really successful since I was a teenager, because I eat very good and I make love a lot, and I do a lot of amazing things.”
Naturally, many of the amazing things Buika gets up to are in the music business, as she crisscrosses genre lines with gay abandon. For her, it’s all about testing the water, come what may.
“To me, everything is to experiment. First of all, when you decide or you discover that you are good at something, then I think it’s nice if you’re going a little bit toward your limits and you cross them a little bit – because crossing your limits is the only way to know where they are.
As soon as I first discovered that I was a good someone [sic], I wasn’t scared of myself anymore.
And when you are not scared of yourself, you are not scared of anybody. And I think that that gets into music very much. It gives you so much character in your music.”
If there’s one thing Buika has learned, it is about living in the here and now, and pushing on regardless.
“I’ve never seen any video, any interview, I never read any interview of myself, I never see any recording of any concert. I have never seen myself anywhere. I really do try to experience the reality of every second of my life.
“And I’m not scared of what I’ve done, I’m not scared of what I’m saying, and I’m not scared of what I will say. I put my faith in what I know, not in what I think.
“My thoughts can be wrong, but my experience is my experience, and my experience is my truth, so I never walk back. Never. What for?”
For tickets and more information about the Concha Buika concert call (03) 692-777, or go to: