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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Saturday/Sunday, August 2-3, 2008.



Maria Concepcion (“Concha”) Balboa Buika is high on my list of favorite contemporary vocalists. Very high. With Nina de Fuego, her fourth release, she climbs up there with Sara Tavares and Rokia Traore, surpasses Joy Denalane, all on the strength of electing to do a serious rather than “pop-oriented” follow up to Mi Nina Lola, her best-selling third album.

These days, it’s difficult to resist the enticing “come hither” of the commercial marketplace. You are offered clichéd, but nevertheless real, possibilities of both fame and fortune. After years of toiling as a relative unknown in semi-obscurity, what do you do when tours and TV spots are laid before you; when reporters come calling for interviews; and a world tour is definitely in the planning stages?

Do you create for the youthful marketplace? Do you read your reviews and try to repeat whatever the critics liked? Do you do your best to make sure you continue upward and not slide backward—and if so how?

Or do you do what Concha has done—get with your old producer, Javier Limon, and further explore your own reality?

"I don’t fear life, because I don’t look for paradise; my body is my paradise.

Art is the only really legitimate religion that has us all in community, because it goes directly to your soul. The music is deep within us. We just have to remember it."

—Concha Buika

“Culpa Mia,” the first track opens with Concha singing over traditional flamenco handclaps, but after the opening prelude comes a brief solo by Javier Limon on guitar followed by a verse from Concha, and then Jerry Gonzalez offers an elegant trumpet solo. The song shifts again into a concluding Afro-Cuban groove featuring sparkling trumpet and a familiar piano vamp before fading out over the dancing rhythm.
Concha loves flamenco, loves jazz, loves music and it’s all reflected on her new album with its diverse selections.


“Mienteme Bien,” a smoldering, smokey-voiced confession, is Concha’s duet with her pianist. “Volver, Volver” is similar except it sounds a bit more pain filled. On "Volver, Volver" her only accompaniment is Limon’s guitar and trumpet obbligatoes. “La Niebla,” a fourth cut from the album, is a beautiful melody built on a jazz-inspired bass line—a tender sway that invites dancing with a close partner. The song also features Concha’s voice attractively multi-tracked.

I’ve included a bonus cut from Javier’s album Casa Limon. If you want to know what Spanish jazz sounds like, "En el Mismo Lugar" is the cut to check out. Concha is patient in lining out the lilting melody and the tenor saxophonist channels Lester Young, perfectly complementing Concha’s soft tones.

I am a jazz head and as such, my tastes return time and again to exploration, innovation and above all truthfulness of expression. Of course, singing your truth is no simple matter because each of us is so complex in the diversity of our experiences and motivations.

The mind is very capricious. Sometimes we want to remember things that in reality we don’t remember, but they become part of our life and we believe in them. We can get confused.

When I really got into music was when I discovered that music made me a better person. It helped me not to lie. I always fantasized a lot, made up a lot of stories. So turning them into songs made me much more sincere myself.


I got used to singing the truth. There are a lot of artists who put in their songs or sing what they’d like to happen. But I sing what has really happened to me, however horrible or embarrassing it is. I’m not ashamed to be a person, I don’t go looking for virtues or defects or where paradise is, and I don’t want to look for it. I think paradise is all around us. So I compose and sing sincerely to get the things I have inside me out, so they don’t hurt me.

—Concha Buika


On the Nina de Fuego cover, Concha sits, naked. She has nothing to hide. Naked is a perfect description of her approach to singing.

Although I don’t speak Spanish and have only a passing familiarity with the intricacies of Flamenco’s musical traditions, Concha’s music nevertheless resonates in me.

Perhaps, just as Concha says,  “art is the only really legitimate religion.”

Amen to that!

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop.


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