The singer Concha Buika worked musical magic on Saturday night, transforming a litany of love's agonies -- loss, loneliness, hurt -- into a triumphant expression of life.
``I've lived all my life thinking love was a dangerous cure, and I died so many times,'' Buika told the adoring, roaringly appreciative crowd that filled the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center. ``But at the end, dying of love is a lie. There's never an end.''
In the three years since she made her U.S. debut at Little Havana's Manuel Artime Theater (presented by the Rhythm Foundation, which co-presented Saturday's concert as well), this Spanish-African singer's musical capacity and ability to captivate an audience have grown enormously.
On Saturday she scatted like a jazz singer, howled with earthy blues power and flamenco's torn-from the gut rasp, slid effortlessly into soul-rending melodic sweetness and swung like a Cuban sonero.
Backed by a stellar trio of European-based Cuban musicians (the marvelous pianist Ivan ``Melon'' Lewis, bass player Dany Noel, and drummer Fernando Favier) at one point she even improvised as if she were a fourth instrument, her voice ricocheting in wordless rhythmic and harmonic counterpoint in a way that seemed to stun her band.
But more than her virtuosity, it was Buika's emotional connection to the audience and the music that made the approximately 2,000 person crowd feel as if they were in an intimate cabaret.
All the songs she performed Saturday dealt with the tension between the pain of lost love and its irresistible, necessary allure. Though her current U.S. tour (which ended Saturday) is named for her latest album, El Ultimo Trago, a tribute to classic Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas, many of the songs Buika performed in Miami were contemporary ones from her previous two CD's, including the title tracks, Mi Niña Lola and Niña de Fuego.
But all reveled in the vertiginous emotional cliffhangers of romance, a path Buika hurls herself down with spine-tingling verve and intensity. ``The years have taught me nothing,'' she whispered throatily in Trago, before exploding with such glorious abandon that she made jumping off an emotional precipice seem irresistible.
Also new was Buika's confidence and command of the stage, talking and joking with the audience, even veering from tragedy to comedy and back mid-song. ``I forgive you'' she sang in Volveràs (You'll Return), then whispered mockingly ``as always.''
``I've screwed up a lot of things in my life, but I feel the responsibility to rise above them,'' she said to introduce Recuerdos (Memories). ``All life, all music depends on one basic movement -- forward.''
Here's hoping Buika keeps exploring musical ecstasy and agony, and taking the rest of us with her.