Bebo y Cigala's Lagrimas Negras was a groundbreaking crossover between an octogenarian Cuban pianist and a fiery Flamenco cantaor, an imaginative hybrid of son and bulerias. Now Concha Buika, a black lady of Equatorial Guinean parentage born in Mallorca and living in Spain, presents Niña de Fuego. It's a unique album embedded in the Flamenco milieu yet enlivened by a clearly different soul. Hence the mention of Lagrimas Negras.
For a further parallel, the girl of fire -- mature woman more fittingly -- presents a few rancheras also like El Cigala. Here we remember Chavela Vargas who made so memorable an appearance in Salma Hayek's Frida Kahlo movie. On Buika's third album, it's the most minimal numbers like "Mienteme bien" accompanied by pianist Ivan 'Melon' Lewis which shine the very brightest. Rather than dazzling with outward-directed fireworks and heated compas, Buika's vocal appeal lies in its sincerity, an emotional depth which underplays to make its point more succinctly. Because of her skin color, it would be convenient to invoke a heart of Blues that happens to be clothed in Flamenco threads. Except that our singer grew up in Spain. She has imbibed its popular music vibes on location. So the stylings are all there, with Javier Limón on guitarra flamenca. It's that something else she adds, however, that's unfamiliar. Yet it's utterly convincing and compelling, with slivers of salsa/rumba on "Mentirosa" and the aforementioned rancheras spirit, delivered parsed down to its essentials, darker, heavier and the more potent for it. Very different from Ketama's happy Latin sound.
The lyrics of "La falsa moneda" do mention the gypsies, those travelers who have always fully embraced the music of their surroundings yet always add their own unique ingredients for that certain unmistakable difference. In similar fashion, Buika sounds like a traveler from elsewhere who took root in Spain. On "Volver, volver" we seem to touch upon her otherness most closely, with the simple guitar invoking Mexico while Carlos Sarduy's background trumpet is more Jazz than mariachi. Buika is clearly rather more than the latest Flamenco starlet as some -- rather in error I think -- might be inclined to style her. Whatever one finally decides to call Buika's thing, it's new, it's exciting, it's artistically serious, it's deeply poetic. More importantly, it's beautiful. And beauty has every right to exist for its own sake on its own terms, no further equivocations required or desired.