When Buika looks out at a packed audience, she doesn’t only see hundreds of faces looking toward her – she sees a room filled with people’s stories and memories.
That’s why, when she steps on stage for a performance, the Latin Grammy-winning flamenco soul singer – who has won comparisons to Chavela Vargas, Cesaria Evora and Nina Simone for her rich, smoky voice – doesn’t come with a prepared set list that neatly balances songs between albums new and old; she comes ready to improvise, and work with what she is feeling from the crowd.
“There are poems in the air. If you listen carefully, you can hear them and you can sing them,” says the singer from a tour stop in Phoenix. “People are open when they look at the stage, so you can see and feel a lot of things. And if you’re listening to them, you know what you have to sing.”
Born of exiled Equatorial Guinean parents on the Spanish island of Majorca, Buika now calls Miami home but travels constantly, and that range of international influence is palpable in her emotionally charged mix of flamenco, jazz, pop and soul – a unique sound that has landed her accolades, as well as collaborations with filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and musicians Seal, Anoushka Shankar, Chick Corea, Chucho Valdés, Pat Metheny and more.
For Buika, music has always been a source of solace, what she calls “a good doctor” – especially as she grew up as the only black child in a poor neighbourhood and was, as she describes it, an “enfant terrible.” It was also a time that led to two butterfly tattoos on her forearm.
“I was an outsider. They used to look at me and say, ‘She ain’t got no future. Nothing is going to happen with that girl.’ But it’s like the butterfly. You never know where the butterfly is flying to. She flies up and down and from the right to the left, and it’s like she doesn’t have any control, like she doesn’t know where she’s going,” says Buika in a thick Spanish accent. “But she knows exactly where she’s going. So you just let her go.”