Buika Performs 'Without Fear' at Barcelona Jazz Festival

LORENZO DUASO/VOLL-DAMM FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL JAZZ BARCELONA
Buika performs at the Voll-Damm Festival Internacional Jazz Barcelona on Nov. 7, 2015.

From new reggae-pop to familiar Latin torch songs, the iconoclastic singer boldly mixes it up on stage.

Concha Buika is frequently referred to as a diva, the fussy term too often tossed out to classify a singularly talented female artist who defies easy definition.

That defiance is what has best defined Buika over the past decade. With a gravelly voice that knows no boundaries, she brought a Fugees-meets-flamenco vibe to her eclectic 2005 album debut, representing what she called the “new Afro-Spanish generation.” On subsequent recordings, she hit her stride with her striking flamenco-jazz take on Latin torch songs, creating the sublime sound of anguish-meets-ecstasy that has brought her fans around the world.

Buika Bares Her Body & Soul in New Book

Buika has never been reluctant to visit the dark places. But her new album, Vivir Sin Miedo (“To Live Without Fear”), goes in different directions, mostly toward the easy vibe of flamenco-tinged reggae pop, with a surprising emphasis on English-language lyrics.

At her Nov. 7 concert at the Barcelona Jazz Festival, part of a European tour that precedes a string of spring dates in the U.S., Buika’s new material was enthusiastically received by the capacity crowd.

Dressed in a kind of tattoo-baring designer warrior gown that from a distance could resemble a breastplate paired with a sarong, she set the freewheeling mood by wearing no shoes. Backed by a newly formed group of musicians who seemed delighted to be at her beck and call, Buika appeared to pull the set list from the air during some mystical interludes in which she hushed the band and waved her hands skyward before moving on to the next song.

The mood was high and expectant, a sort of homecoming for the native of Mallorca now living in Miami, who at one point during the concert sang a ballad in Catalan.

It was a spare duet between Buika and her band’s cajon player that brought a spontaneous “olé” from one audience member. And her intense, free-form performances of the classics “Siboney” and “Ojos Verdes” during separate encores sent Buika fans home with that they came for. 

Some of the new numbers seemed thin, absent, as they are, of Buika’s signature drama. And there were a few pure pop moments when the singer’s early days -- when she worked as a Tina Turner impersonator in Las Vegas -- came to mind.

But Buika’s obvious joy at refusing to stick with a proven formula for success was infectious, and new songs, like “Sister” and “The Key (Misery)” were enough to make you want to hear the new album.

It was clear is that no matter what she’s singing, Buika’s command of the stage, and the audience doesn’t waver. And that really does make her a diva. 


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