Spanish singer Buika (nee María Concepción Balboa Buika), now in her late 30s, spent years struggling to make it, mimicking U.S. pop songs in Balearic clubs, recording house tracks, cutting a jazz-pop album, and even working in Las Vegas as a Tina Turner impersonator. It wasn’t until 2006, when she began a stunning string of albums made with producer Javier Limón, that she had any real success.
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.