by Ken Avis
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.
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.