Concha Buika’s sultry voice reverberates softly through the golden walls of the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. Her hair is swept in a shiny, black scarf as her eyes gaze shyly at the room of roughly 1,000 audience members who are eagerly awaiting her next words of wisdom.
“I think this is important information,” she adds, chuckling a little into her microphone. The audience, taking in her words, cheers thoughtfully, as if she has just answered to their collective curiosities, thoughts they had no means to express.
Buika (“BWEE-kah”), born on the island of Mallorca to immigrants from Equatorial Guinea, has become an emerging Spanish vocalist who has created a rare yet ingenious sound, a hybrid of flamenco, jazz and soul. Influenced by her African roots, the Spanish gypsy community, Latin American beats and the Americanization of a Las Vegas stint, Buika has achieved a blended style of earthy passion and cosmopolitan wit. Her success in Spain has transferred internationally and across mediums, with her first film debut in Pedro Almodovar's upcoming film "La Piel Que Habito," as well as duets with Seal and Nelly Furtado. Her new Latin Grammy Award nominated album, "El Ultimo Trago (The Last Drink)," brings her to the United States for her first American tour, which had her swing through Davis last Saturday.
In between lyrics, Buika shares with the audience the many secrets she says she’s discovered along her travels. "It’s a secret, but I will tell you," she says, grinning.
“When we open our mouths to say something, we fall into the fire,” she says, lifting her skirt to begin subtle flamenco choreography as she shapes her fingers into imaginary castanets.
“When I feel I don’t know nothing, I realize I know everything,” she continues.
Her spoken lyrics come both from her own poetry and translations from “El Ultimo Trago," which covers interpretations of songs by one of Buika’s musical heroines, Mexican legend Chevela Varges.
Buika intersperses her elusive spoken words with the raspy, desperately powerful "el cante." Buika reintroduces Vargas’ classic songs by transforming Vargas’ bolero “El Ultimo Trago" into a blues number and “Somos” into the soft, rhythmic cha-cha.
As the falsetto of her flamenco-driven cries captivates the audience, she takes a moment to calm her intense vocal chords and capture her supporting musicians. Buika grabs what looks like an older DSLR camera and bends down to take a few shots of the drummer, the bassist and the pianist, as each musician round-robins into a jazzy solo instrumentation.
Buika continues the night with numbers from her first two albums, as well as more of Vargas’ classics such as "Luz de Luna." Between songs, she takes careful consideration to translate for the audience. “Luz de luna, it means moonlight,” she says. “Mentirosa, it means liar."
As her performance comes to a close, she thanks the audience with sincerity. “Muchas gracias, thank you so much!” she exclaims. But the audience demands an encore, and she returns to perform “Mi Niña Lola,” from her debut album “Mi Niña Lola.”
If the last drink is really never the last, well, then, let’s say, “Can we have another one please?”
Photos by Steven Chea.