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Since her debut solo album in 2005, singer-songwriter Buika has built her career by defying musical genres. The Latin Grammy-winning vocalist infuses flamenco, jazz, soul, blues and Spanish folk into her music, and sings in multiple languages, including her native Spanish. Tom Casciato spoke with Buika about her musical roots and why, for her, every venue she sings in is a "big stage."
Love is blindness… sometimes.
In a small studio in a Miami suburb, Buika listens back to a vocal for an upcoming album.
It's a beautiful, beautiful song that talks about when you lost someone and you don't realize it and you don't want to, you know, you don't want to talk to yourself and say to yourself, "hey that's over," you know?
When you keep going and keep going in your mind with a, like an obsession in your mind.
Her obsession right this moment is getting her vocal part exactly right. She tries another take.
The only obsession I have in this world is music. And the person that comes to love you have to realize that, that you already have your first love, which is the music, you know?
That that can't be easy for the other person who loves you.
I understand, I understand but, you know, it's a reality when you, I mean, I work for the humanity. That's a big, big thing.
Describing her vocal style is difficult, because she fuses flamenco with jazz, soul, blues, Spanish folk music, and so many additional styles it's no wonder she's been called "a singer from everywhere." Clearly that's a notion she embraces.
Buika (ON STAGE):
I love all the countries of the world, because I'm from them. I'm from Nigeria, I'm Italian, mm-hmm, I'm Cuban. I'm Colombian too, I love Columbia, I'm Colombian, of course I'm Colombian, yeah! Yeah, I'm Brazilian, I'm from Brazil, too.
She's actually from Spain, the daughter of political refugees who fled the dictatorship in their home of Equatorial Guinea.
My Mama and my Papa, they, they left Africa. They came to Palma de Mallorca in Spain, which is an amazing, beautiful island.
For most of her youth, Buika was raised by her single mother.
You know my father left when I was nine years old.
We were, like, nine, ten people at home. And my father wasn't there. And my Mama uses the music as a resource, as a weapon against sadness at home, because the situation was not easy. And she didn't recognize between the different pop tribes, you know, like rock, blues, opera music, whatever. To my mom, all the music was the same. She used to dance everything, you know, African style, even if it was Pavarotti!
That makes a lot of sense to me, because your music includes so many musics in it. I was listening to your song "Deadbeat," one of your recent releases. And I was trying to describe it to a friend. And I said, "It's kind of uh techno, prog, reggae, with some New Orleans trombone."
But music didn't make her childhood easy. She was raised in virtually the only black family in her community. What was that like for you?
Well, sometimes good, sometimes strange, sometimes horrible. At that time, to grow in a place where you are the unique in something, obviously you're gonna have a lot of trouble. Everybody around you make you feel like, you know, that you not gonna be able to be someone, you know, in your life, because you were born that way. It was like, wow, you are a black girl, just because you are a black girl, you probably won't be able to do absolutely nothing. I felt that it was a bad luck, my life, you know? And I, I didn't feel comfortable with it. And I was angry. I was just angry.
But then, life taught me that that's not true. No matter if you are white in a country where everybody is Chinese. If you do your things right, you can reach the moon.
Buika was intent on doing her music right. She first began to perform in public as a teenager.
I was singing everywhere: in weddings, in clubs, and everywhere I was singing all types of music.
And how old were you when you knew you were an artist?
I still don't know, because I'm still workin' on it, you know?
Her voice got her into the music business, but its uniqueness went unrecognized at first.
At one point, you made your way to Las Vegas.
And I understand that in Las Vegas you were a Tina Turner impersonator?
What was that like?
Yeah, but did you ever say to yourself, "Damn, I have this great voice. Why am I impersonating another great singer when I'm a great singer"?
Well, because when you sing for someone, doesn't matter if you are in a big stage, in a small stage, in a wedding, in your home singing for your family, or singing for someone who's ill because you wanna make him feel good. That is a big stage.
She was already in her thirties when she finally recorded her debut album in 2005. With her third in 2008 she was nominated for a Latin Grammy. That's an award she would win in 2010 for her collaboration with the legendary Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdes. And soon the former wedding singer was playing a wedding singer in a film by Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Buika is also an accomplished songwriter.
I wanna ask you about one of your songs. Your most recent single, which basically says over and over again, "I love you. Go away."
"Vete Gue Te Quiero," which means, "get the hell out of here because I love you, you know?"
I know that the– the– the sentence is a little bit contradictory. But it is not, you know? You sometimes know that this someone that you are falling in love with is not good for you.
Love is beautiful and is, you know, love is the best. But love sometimes can also be a bitch.
Today, the woman who was told as a kid she wouldn't amount to anything has become one of the most accomplished singers around. Do you think there will ever be a Buika impersonator in Las Vegas?
I don't think so.
Why not? It could happen.
What– what advice would you give to her if there was a Buika impersonator in Las Vegas in the future?
Marry to a lawyer! We have to celebrate life all the time. I celebrate– life all the time, in my home, with my son, with my lover, with my Mama, with my brothers and sisters, and with all the people that I know. And I gonna do it till my last day, because this life's been a gift. I'm not scared to show who I am. I think that is what makes me a human person.
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Tom Casciato is an Emmy award-winning director, writer, producer and television executive who has created critically acclaimed nonfiction projects that have appeared on PBS, ABC, NBC, TBS, Showtime and more. He recently directed and produced two stories within episodes of the second season of the Emmy Award-winning climate-change series, "Years Of Living Dangerously." His 2013 film with Kathleen Hughes and Bill Moyers for Frontline series, "Two American Families," was called by Salon “... one of the best and most heartbreaking documentaries” of the year. Tom previously worked at WNET from 2006 until 2012, serving variously as director of News & Current Affairs and executive producer of two PBS series, "Wide Angle" and "Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports."
Sam Weber has covered everything from living on minimum wage to consumer finance as a shooter/producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior joining NH Weekend, he previously worked for Need to Know on PBS and in public radio. He’s an avid cyclist and Chicago Bulls fan.
Connie Kargbo has been working in the media field since 2007 producing content for television, radio, and the web. As a field producer at PBS NewsHour Weekend, she is involved in all aspects of the news production process from pitching story ideas to organizing field shoots to scripting feature pieces. Before joining the weekend edition of PBS Newshour, Connie was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand where she trained Thai English teachers.
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