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She'd grown up poor in an otherwise all-white neighborhood on the island of Mallorca, the daughter of an exiled Guinean. All of her musical experiences seem to have figured into her work with Limón, but the flamenco she absorbed from her Romany neighbors is at the heart of her amazing 2007 album, Mi Niña Lola (Warner Music Latina). Limón's production uses elements from jazz and pop to forge a distinctive take on flamenco, thoroughly contemporary but not slick or glib, and Buika's impressive voice gives a raspy fire to her performances. Here's what I said about the record in the Reader a couple of years ago, when it got its first stateside release.
More recently Buika teamed with brilliant Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, who was in town last weekend at Symphony Center. On 2009's El Último Trago (Warner Music Latina) the pair pay homage to the legendary Chavela Vargas, one of the greatest voices in Mexican folk music. Also produced by Limón, the album balances the essences of three very different yet related traditions—flamenco, Cuban son, and ranchera—without resorting to forced hybrids or facile mimicry. It also balances the three strong personalities involved: Valdes lays down driving, insistent montuno patterns, Buika braids flamenco, jazz, and Cuban music into her elegant interpretations, and Vargas is present in the lyrical intensity of the tunes she made famous.
Buika makes her long-overdue Chicago debut Friday night at Symphony Center (if I hadn't made an, um, administrative error here at the home office, the show would've been a Critic's Choice in this week's paper). She fronts a small combo with pianist Iván "Melón" Lewis, bassist Danny Noel, and percussionist Fernando Favier. The concert is a double bill that also includes popular Mexican-American singer Lila Downs, and both will pay tribute to the music of Vargas.
Peter Evans Quartet, Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed)
Christina Kubisch, Five Electrical Walks (Important)
Luisa Maita, Lero-Lero (Cumbancha)
Oren Ambarchi, Suspension (Touch)
Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do (ATO)