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“I tour through all of these different countries and I sing in Spanish,” says the dynamic Miami-based singer Buika. “I want to prove that it doesn’t matter where a musician comes from—people understand it. It doesn’t matter where I perform— Turkey, France, Japan, the U.S.—people cry in the same places in the songs and they don’t understand the words I’m singing.”
On her latest and most diverse album La Noche Más Larga (The Longest Night) the Spanish-bred singer of African descent continues to knock down the walls that surround flamenco, the root source of everything she does, but a tradition that can’t contain her ever-expanding vision. For the first time in her career Buika was the overall producer of the album, which was recorded in Madrid, Miami, and New York with a dazzling group of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic. Long-time collaborators like keyboardist Iván “Melón” Lewis, bassist Alain Pérez, and percussionists Ramón Porrina and Israel Suárez “El Piraña” are joined by some of New York’s strongest and most progressive Latin jazz musicians like drummer Dafnis Prieto, bassist John Benitez, and percussionist Pedrito Martínez, forming a top-flight combo with the chops and imagination to match the singer’s disregard for genre boundaries. As usual, her powerhouse voice renders those lines invisible.
On her last album, El Ultimo Trago (a tribute to the late Mexican singing legend Chavela Vargas), Buika partnered with the brilliant Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, and the collaboration garnered her a Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Album. That stylistic expansion continues on La Noche Más Larga, where she tackles the modern Abbey Lincoln classic “Throw it Away”; sings in French again with a stunning version of the Jacques Brel standard “Ne Me Quitte Pas”; and creates an entirely new flamenco-driven version of the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain.” Additionally, jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny contributes a beautifully lyric solo to Buika’s original composition “No Lo Sé.” The guitarist says, “Buika is one of my favorite singers ever. I have been a big fan of hers since she arrived on the scene and I am really happy to have gotten the chance to contribute to her latest project.”
Most significantly, nearly half of the songs on the new album were written completely by Buika, and actually credited to her, which has not always been the case in the past, due in part to the singer’s lack of attention to the business side of her career. Buika says her steady touring all over the globe has given her greater and greater confidence, and provided the sense of identity that’s eluded her for decades. “My parents were born in one place [Equatorial Guinea) and I was born in another [the Spanish island of Mallorca]. When I grew up in Spain everyone said, ‘You’re not from here,’ and my family from Africa would say I wasn’t from Africa, so it was always tricky for me. But now, travelling around the world, I discovered a piece of me in every country I travel in. I discovered the world is my house. My blood is full of things from everywhere in the world. What I try to do when I sing is to follow my free note. It doesn’t know about borders. ”
Since her introduction to the American marketplace in 2007 with her album Mi Niña Lola (My Little Girl Lola) Buika has experienced a meteoric rise, earning lavish praise from the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and many more. Despite just a few concert appearances she earned two Latin Grammy nominations the following year. Her third US release paved the way for relocation to Miami in 2011 (she lovingly calls the US “the country of happiness and noise”). Before her career took off in the US she had already achieved success in Europe, appearing in the Pedro Almodovar film The Skin I Live In and dueting with Seal. Music from those projects was collected on the essential 2-CD set En Mi Piel in 2011 to satisfy a growing thirst for her music in her new country. Rare is the artist to garner comparisons to Nina Simone, Chavela Vargas, and Cesaria Evora, but Buika has been compared to all of them. She has clearly inherited their steely independence and uncompromising creative vision.
“I think every record I’ve made is different, but with this new one I recorded behind my own ideas and I made this album from a state of freedom,” she says. “I think it’s the bravest record that I’ve made. I wanted to put our craziness and our sound in there.” As usual she puts her unique spin on a variety of covers—vibrantly deploying her rich, sensual, and husky instrument, best described as ‘velvet gravel’, to flamenco with jazz and soul—but her choices have never been more personal. Songs like “Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Corazón” by Argentine pop star Fito Páez, (a popular anthem after the collapse of the military dictatorship in the 1980’s), “Santa Lucía” an international hit by Spanish superstar Miguel Ríos, and “La Nave del Olvido” (a composition by Argentina’s Dino Ramos made famous by Mexican singer José José) were all pop tunes she grew up with. “Those are songs that were played in my house when I was a little girl,” explains Buika. “I had seven sisters and brothers and my mother was raising us alone—my father had disappeared. She didn’t want to cry in front of us, so she would play music and cry behind the songs.”
Yet Buika makes no effort to sing any of these songs with the spirit of the originals. She makes them her own, another artistic choice that counts as brave. “This is a risky album because we didn’t really think about the audience,” she says. “I just did what my heart was demanding. Now in the music business everybody does what they think other people will like, but that’s a limitation. I don’t care about sales, I just want to be true. I want what Charlie Parker’s got—I want eternity.”