Concha Buika ravishes with her singing voice, but even in spoken conversation, the sweetly rasping flamenco singer provokes goosebumps, pouring out her ideas in poetic cadences. Her artististic principles are at one with her outlook on life: an open bisexual, a child of African immigrants, a one-time Tina Turner impersonater, an aspiring electronica programmer—nothing's a contradiction for the ever-evolving Buika.
In this interview, Buika reveals what "your mother" and Chucho Valdes have in common, and dishes how she got kicked out of Chavela Vargas' dressing room and danced with Antonio Banderas. The Indy spoke with her by phone back in September, before she embarked on a North American tour behind El Ultimo Trago (2009). She performs at N.C. State University's Stewart Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m.
Independent Weekly: How would you prefer that I call you, Concha or Buika?
Buika: Well, my name in your mouth is yours. Both are my name.
You've lived your life outside of convention in many ways. How has that affected your expression as an artist?
I don't know how I do what I do. I can't explain it. I do what I do because I am what I am. I just close my eyes and I sing what I hear inside.
I'm very interested in this Latin scene that's going on in Madrid right now; your producer has worked with El Cigala and Bebo Valdes, and now you did this album with Chucho Valdes. How much is it a "scene," that is, a new remix of these elements of Africa, Afro-Cuba and Spain?
Well, I think all the world is united for the same thing: the arts. I think that arts are a unique religion that we have, because it's the only one that unites the world. The rest of the religions, they separate the people. Every time I find myself in front of another musician, or a painter, or a writer, or a photographer, I think that I'm in front of someone who is trying to do the same mission that I do. That's to reunite the world again. I think that we are living separate [because of] ideas that are from other people. And I think that our idea is to be together.
Tell me about working with Chucho Valdes in Cuba, on La Ultima Copa. Was that your first time working with him?
I always believe that all of us are big maestros, you know. All of us are teachers, because we are the only ones who can share our own information. You are the teacher of all the things you know. I am the teacher of all the things I know. That work with Chucho was really nice because he recognized that. He recognized that I was a maestro also. The same as you, the same as your mother, the same as your sister, the same as your friend, all of us. When I was working with him, he was so elegant, he made me feel that I was in the right place. So I really appreciate what he did for me.
Some of those songs were rancheras originally sung by Chavela Vargas. I saw a photo of you with her, so obviously you had a chance to meet. What was that like for you?
Well, the first time I met her, she kicked me out. [Laughter]
Yeah, the first I met her [about 4 years ago] she said, "Can you sing for me?" And I was trying to sing, but I was singing from my fears. She didn't even let me finish, she was like, "Stop, stop, get out of here! You're not ready for that, get out of here!" I was crying. But [a few months] after that, I went performing in Mexico, and she came and saw my show. She came into the dressing room, and she hugged me so hard and was like, "You are my black daughter." So now she is my Mama Chavela and I'm her black daughter. But at first, she kicked me out. [Laughter]
That turned out great. You obviously identify with her too. Your personal life is something of an open book. Chavela has become a role model for bisexual and gay women; do you feel it's important for you to be a public role model in the same way?
Well, I think that Chavela is very brave. I think that all women are, because all women are strong enough to say what they feel. I learned something really big from her, which is women don't have to be scared of loneliness. It's our best weapon, and it's also the biggest of the freedoms. I think that one of the black holes for women is to be scared of loneliness. She was like, that's the unique place where women can build a good idea, without the ideas from other people. So I really appreciate this tremendous lesson, because for me it was a miracle, to believe in her words. It makes me strong.
So loneliness is the source of your independence, freedom from other voices telling you how to do things?
Yeah, because at the end, a different order is not a disorder. It's our own identity. I think that all of us have to fight to love our own identity, because it's personal, it is ours.
I'm getting goosebumps when you talk about that. To get to something on a more musical level: I'm sure you would resist labels, but I'm curious how you see yourself at the cross-section of genres, including flamenco, ranchera, bolero, house, maybe even African music?
Well, I don't know about the different styles. I think there's seven notes, majors and minors [keys], and the truth you have inside. This is music. I think that jazz music is a beautiful and small world. Blues music is a beautiful and small world. Flamenco is a really beautiful and small world. But I think that I'm in the universe. So I can jump through all these little worlds, and make from these little worlds just one, the world of music, the world of love and the world of memories.
The house music I've heard, were you involved with those artists, or did they remix your sound?
I think, myself, that I'm a really good electronic programmer. My instrument is the computer.
I didn't know that, tell me more.
Electronic music, that is the music that made me think in spaces, not in charts or bars anymore. Spaces, because it's about sounds, not about notes. I love to do that because I can feel at peace when I'm walking down the street. You hear the noise of a motorcycle, the noise of the cars, everything is so noisy. But when I hear from my ear of music, electronic music, those terrible sounds became beautiful sounds to sing on. Because I can record the motorcycle sound and use it in my song. That's something magic that electronic gives you, and I really love this concept. I'm doing my own electronic record now.
So that's going to be the next album?
Yep. It's very electronic. I don't know when this is going to see the light, but I think it's soon; March-April next year.
Filmmaker Pedro Almodovar has said some amazing things about you. What do you think of him?
I think that he's crazy like a Japanese cow. [Laughter]
I don't know what that means, is that an expression?
Yeah, he's loco. He is very nice, I've been working with him on a film that's coming out next year, in September. I never went into the cinema world, and it is so complicated, these people are like crazy, it's so complicated ... ufff, uff. You understand, to me, I have a guitar, I have my voice, let's play and you can enjoy it with 100,000 people. But for that, it's too much information, too much machines, too much everything, and everything is under his control, so wow. Antonio Banderas, he was so warm with me because he realized that I know absolutely nothing about cinema. Antonio came on stage and he began to dance with me to make me relax. That was so nice.
Wow, no kidding! What kind of a part do you play, a singer or something else?
I'm singing a couple of songs.
Lovely, can't wait to see that. Buika, what a joy to speak with you.
Gracias, bye bye.