Arts Desk

A Little Bit Enfant Terrible: A Chat With Afro-Spanish Singer Buika

Last year, the New York Daily News reported that Afro-Spanish singer Buika was retiring. I asked Buika, who appears at the Howard Theatre tonight, about that.

“Me retiring, I am too young for that," she said. "What happened was that my previous manager was mad at me that I didn’t want to do a 48-date tour and told everyone I was retiring." Far from calling it quits, the Miami-based, 40-year-old Buika, whom NPR chose as one of its 50 Great Voices, is working on multiple projects. Best known for her blend of flamenco, Nina Simone-like jazz, Gypsy melodies, and Mexican ranchera dramatics, the husky-voiced singer says she's preparing an electronic music project, a poetry book, a movie, as well as a new album with vocals.

While Buika says she struggles sometimes with English, in conversation she conveys her artistic temperament and free spirit with a mix of straightforward and unique phrasing. “I am a little bit enfant terrible,” she says. “ I want to do all the music I have the opportunity to do.”  She says her next album will reflect her longstanding approach to singing and recording.  “I am not an easy musician to work with...we have to listen to what the music wants and that’s what makes it difficult to work with me.”

When I suggest the new album will be Afro-flamenco, Buika resists the characterization. “I don’t think of myself as a flamenco singer. I never did," she says. "Flamenco is a beautiful, amazing but small world."  Buika, who was once a Tina Turner impersonator in Las Vegas but has also worked with Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, adds, “All of these musics have a certain big energy but they have a limitation."

Buika says her interest in electronic beats is not new, but has been renewed thanks to her son’s passions. “Because my son is 12-years-old and he is getting into music and DJing, he is home everyday with the loud music and my head is going to explode,” she says, laughing. “I am hearing a lot of hiphop. I like those musics—no I love them. The reality is I am an electronic music programmer. That is my first instrument. I did that a long time ago. It was like my secret."

After appearing in Pedro Almodovar’s movie The Skin I Live In,  Buika is now working with her brother on her own film,  From Loneliness to Hell. She filmed it last year and is now working on the soundtrack. “We did it ourselves [financially]. It’s about 45 minutes. The reality is the film doesn’t have any place in the film world, but we recorded what we felt,” she says.  As for her book, she simply notes, “The poetry is aggressive.  It’s not possible to translate it to English. I was trying but I did not like the result.”

Tonight Buika says she will be joined by a guitarist and a percussionist. Look for her to exhibit her adventurous creativity with the band via a vocal range that goes from a sultry breathiness to minimalistic power. “When I am singing I don’t want a frontier," she says. "I want to let my note go as far as she can reach.”

Buika appears at the Howard Theatre tonight at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. $40.

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