Concha Buika Comes to the London Jazz Festival


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Once heard, never forgotten. Concha Buika’s voice is one of the most glorious sounds to have emerged on the international stage in the past couple of years. All sorts of metaphors come to mind: blood-red wine, the sharpened blade of a knife, a cry of pain in a darkened church. The language barrier is really no hindrance at all. When you listen to the Spanish singer, you know instantly that you are in the presence of a rare talent.

She has a chance to convert a new audience this month when she appears at the London Jazz Festival, a season that has cannily expanded its range to include everything from the dub pioneer Dennis Bovell to the Afrobeat showman Femi Kuti (Fela's son) and that quirky string band Carolina Chocolate Drops. With its core audience increasingly made up of thirtysomethings feeling their way into jazz’s core repertoire, the event has made a virtue out of venturing to the periphery.

Ironically, despite being hailed as the queen of flamenco fusion, Buika thinks of herself as a jazz singer. Names of great American artists of the past — Coltrane, Ella, Dinah Washington and Betty Carter — are scattered through her conversation. We even devote part of our interview, conducted on a hotel terrace with a serene view of the Lisbon skyline, to a discussion about the relatively obscure Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen. Buika is infatuated with his music.

There are lots of things she loves, in fact. This is a woman who exudes passion and fire, who bursts into volcanic roars of gap-toothed laughter every few minutes. You sense she crams a week’s living into every 24 hours. When she tries to find a way to describe how she approaches her vocation, she eventually opts for one of the oldest metaphors of them all: “Art is like — sorry for the expression — f***ing,” she says in heavily accented English. “When I sing to you, I want to be inside you. That’s what films do, that’s what literature does. That’s music.”

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