Live review | A dancing photographer, in total command of the mic: Buika dazzles at the Howard

Buika performed as part of the DC Jazz Festival’s programming at the Howard Theatre. Courtesy Javi Rojo

by Ken Avis
CapitalBop contributor

If the definition of jazz includes passion, virtuosity, and expression, then Guinean-Spanish vocalist Buika’s impressive tour kickoff at the DC Jazz Festival more than met expectations. At the end of last night’s show, the foyer of the Howard Theatre buzzed with the thrill of an audience transported. Buika’s exhilarating blend of flamenco vocal stylings with Afro-Cuban influences had taken them around the world. (It’s little wonder that she earned inclusion in NPR’s 50 Great Voices list, and collaborated with artists such as Chucho Valdez, Chick Corea, Anoushka Shankar, Seal, Nelly Furtado and Pat Metheny

Backed only by the elegant and rhythmical accompaniment of Iván “Melón” Lewis on piano and Ramón Porrina on percussion, Buika’s emotional intensity and dynamic range captivated the capacity audience. The simple musical setting provided a perfect foil for that voice. But had she been backed by a full orchestra, frankly, the voice would still have been the unimpeachable focus – soaring and delicate, sweet yet gritty.

Buika. Courtesy Javi Rojo

Opening with her powerful interpretation of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” from her newly released La Noche Mas Larga, Buika committed voice, heart and soul into her spellbinding performance. Barefoot and absorbed in the music, her voice cascading with acrobatic precision, power and raw brio. Her clapping hands beat out the flamenco-inspired rhythms as she danced without inhibition through 90 minutes of intense musical workout – pausing only occasionally, to take photos of the band.

Amongst the many standout songs was Jacques Brel’s 1950s classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” also from the new album, re-imagined as a syncopated Cuban flamenco. Most of the set was performed in Spanish, to the delight of the audience, which responded with a standing ovation and cries of “¡otras, otras!” Responding to the encore call, Buika declared, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be…. I’ll remember you.”  D.C. will remember her and welcome her back in the future, for sure.



Giovanni Russonello

About Giovanni Russonello

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Giovanni is the founder of CapitalBop, and a music critic for the New York Times. He previously served as a contributor to the Washington Post, the FADER, JazzTimes, NPR Music and others, and hosted “On the Margin,” a books show on WPFW-FM. As head of CapitalBop, he has covered the D.C. jazz scene since 2010. (He is no longer directly involved in the presenting of CapitalBop's concerts.) He graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on African-American history. Reach Giovanni at Read him at or Follow him on Twitter at @giorussonello.

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  1. I was a few minutes late but I thought I made it in time to hear the first tune which was Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” not “Don’t Explain.” If that’s the case I’m mad I missed the first tune!

    Jessica Boykin-Settles /

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