Acclaimed Peruvian singer Susana Baca gave a remarkable concert
at the Carolina Theater in Durham, North Carolina. The show was presented
jointly by the Carolina Theater and Duke Performances.
Susana Baca was introduced as a living legend by Eric
Oberstein, interim director at Duke Performances. Indeed, Susana Baca is one of
the most significant and influential artists in recent Peruvian roots music
history: famed singer-songwriter, ethnomusicologist, educator, and winner of
two Latin Grammy Awards.
The world music star performed a set of Afro-Peruvian
classics, poetic songs by well-known Peruvian poets, and two songs celebrating
the music of Argentina and Puerto Rico. At 74, she still charms audiences with
her charisma and graceful dances on stage.
The band was an outstanding acoustic trio: piano maestro Hector Enrique Purizaga Aguirre; virtuoso bassist Alvin Oscar Huaranga Huaranga; and the versatile Hugo Rolando Bravo Sanchez on cajon, drums and other percussion instruments. Susana invited an excellent Juilliard-trained violinist and Duke University educator named Jennifer Curtis to collaborate on one song. To find out more about Susana Baca, read her biography.
Special thanks to Jeff Doyle at Maria Matias Music and Greg Landau for their assistance to World Music Central.
Tania Libertad de Souza Zuñiga was born in the small coastal town town of Zana in northern Peru, of a Portuguese father and a Peruvian mother of indigenous and Spanish descent. Her musical travels have taken her to Cuba and to Mexico, which she now calls home. She made her first public appearance as a singer at the age of 5 in Chiclayo, Peru, cheered on by her nurse mother and policeman father, performing the beautiful bolero “La Historia de un Amor.” “I started to sing to at the age of five, performing songs in the vals (Peruvian waltz) style and boleros – Latin ballads – both accompanied by the cajon (a Peruvian percussion instrument that was developed from fish boxes).”
African influence was present along Peru’s Costa Negra (Black Coast), among the descendants of slaves brought there four centuries ago, through other Peruvians and the rest of the world paid little attention to it. Though she’s not black herself, Tania was raised there. “I was nurtured in the coastal area, so my contact with Afro-Peruvian music started right at the beginning of my life,” she recalls. Tania remembers that, “All the music of that area had very strong elements of African instrumentation and melodies, and I always had contact with the black musicians from the towns.”
Young Tania also came under the influence of boleros, romantic ballads with creators in Cuba, Mexico, Panama and across Hispanic America. Tania copied lyrics from the radio at home, with the cooperation of her mother, who phoned in multiple requests (using different family names) from her workplace. By the age of eight, Tania had 300 boleros in her repertoire. “There were two important kinds of music to me, bolero and rock,” she says, “because they’ll both be with us forever. The bolero is an excellent genre to express all bad and good situations of love. Even when I was eight I would sing dramatic stories, a funny thing in a child, but I was always interested to sow deep emotions.”
When she moved to the capital city of Lima as a teenager, to pursue a career in music, Tania began to cultivate friendships with a strong community of composers and performers who were deeply involved with Black music. “At that time,” she recalls of the 1970s, “the nationalistic government encouraged the growth of Peruvian culture, and even established an Afro-Peruvian Ballet company.”
Her father, who had impelled his daughter to serenade his mistresses, became her manager when she was in her early teens, and accompanied her through her first contract with RCA Victor and her first national hit, but then insisted that she get an engineering degree. As soon as possible, Tania began acquainting herself with urban pe?as (nightclubs), but she felt uncomfortable with the racism and sexism she encountered there.
She moved on to the sort of protest music germinating out of the casas de trova of Chile and Cuba, and sang in universities and union halls alongside such legends as Victor Jara and Omar Portuondo. In 1978, Tania decided to seek out the fabled musical opportunities of Mexico. Penniless on her arrival, she eventually landed a contract with Polygram from whom she mixed sessions of trova, black Peruvian music, salsa and bolero.
Over the next couple of decades, Tania established her place as a titan of bolero from her adopted Mexican homeland, sharing stage with the likes of Rub?n Blades and Mercedes Sosa. She recorded an amazing variety of duets with Hispanic and Brazilian greats Miguel Bose, Willie Colon, Djavan, Vicente Fernandez, Ivan Lins and Cesar Camargo Mariano. But she also toured extensively in Europe and the Americas, recording a rock-bolero album with Phil Manzanera in London and a live album at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. In New York, encouraged by a producer friend Joseph Papp, she performed in Central Park. And in 1997, she was declared an Artist for Peace by UNESCO.
Always eager for exploration, Tania surprised her fans recently with an album of operatic arias, whose subtitle translates as, And Why Not? But her heart kept turning towards an important source of her identity in the variety of black musical style of Peru. In the music of Cesaria Evora, from the islands off the west coast of Africa, Tania heard hints of the roots of black Peru. It was with Jose da Silva, Evora’s producer, that Tania finally found a guide back to the Costa Negra.
“I could compare what happened with black music after 500 years with my Peruvian roots,” Tania reported about her experience in making Costa Negra. “And when I showed songs to African musicians from Cameroon, Senegal, Madagascar, Cape Verde and Paris, all of them felt the Peruvian rhythms in a very natural way. It was an easy connection for me.” Much easier than when Tania’s repertoire had stumped a pickup band of jazz luminaries at the Festival Miami Beach.
“I’ve learned in all the countries I traveled through that Latin America is one, that we all have the same parents, so it’s easy to adapt other kinds of songs to Peruvian rhythms,” Tania pointed out.
On Costa Negra, there’s the Argentine song “Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazon” and the Cuban “Ay vida mia,” reborn as landos, with a highly sensual rhythm traceable to Angola. The signature “Historia de un amore,” Panamanian in origin, is changed to a lamento peruano, darker and slower, while “Poderoso rey de copas” is a more light-hearted marinera. Richly arranged, instrumental and choral textures place these folk-based form in a sophisticated array. The heartfelt bolero “Historia de un amor,” on the album Costa Negra, resonates across the four-decade scope of singer Tania Libertad’s career.
On Costa Negra, Tania was joined in another rendition of “Historia de un amore” by Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. Thiss recording, made in Paris and Senegal, incorporates African musicians from Madagascar to Cape Verde, as well as musicians from Peru, Mexico and Cuba. Tania feels she had reunited with “the roots onto only of black music but of all Latin American music.”
There is, Tania pointed out, a very special kind of dialogue between musicians, singers, and those who dance to the rhythms. “There are only about 15,000 Afro-Peruvian families in the country, but their cultural influence is very strong,” she added. “Not only the music of these coastal people is special; many of their customs are also distinct.”
“For many years,” Tania explains, “the music was performed mostly out of sight, behind closed doors in close-knit Afro-Peruvian communities. Peruvian high society considered the music profane. But then, about 70 years ago, the rhythms began to emerge, style by style, and eventually grew into the popular form it is today. Now it is widely embraced as a music that’s emblematic of the best of Peruvian culture.”
In 2004 she released another Afro-Peruvian recording, the eclectic Negro Color. “I am not a folklorist,” she said without apology. “Negro Color is my latest experiment. Costa Negra saw the return of an acoustic style. But I don’t like to record an album that sounds like something else I’ve done. All of my albums are different. In Negro Color, we didn’t use any samples or synthesizers. But as all the world sings boleros, so I decided to do boleros, but with other rhythms, not the standard form. For instance, on the Armando Manzanero song “Por debajo de la mesa,” we used the lando rhythm. It’s a beautiful song, and it gains a lot by being performed to the lando style.”
“Negro Color is a collaboration among my music director, my guitarist, and myself,” Tania explained of the special synthesis of talent that came together to produce this album. The guitarist, Felix Casaverde, performed with Chabuca Granda in Peru years ago, but arrived to Mexico with Libertad in 1980. With Cuban-born pianist and music director Sonia Cornuchet, Tania had a special collaborator. “We’re searching,” she said, “for the point that links Cuban and Peruvian music.”
But it is the Afro-Peruvian sound that dominates Negro Color, even when Tania sings in Portuguese with Brazilian vocalist Eder da Rosa the poignant Chico Buarque song “Funeral del Labrador” (Funeral of the Laborer). “Afro-Peruvian music is more sensual than the African-derived music of other countries,” Tania explains. “Rhythms like lando create a very special air – a unique quality – that doesn’t exist in the Black styles of Colombia, Central America, Puerto Rico or Cuba.”
Con La Orquesta De Andres De Colbert (RCA, 1968
Mejor Que Nunca (RCA Victor, 1969
Soy Peruana (RCA Victor, 1970
Despertar (Virrey, 1971
En Primer Plano (Virrey, 1972
La Contamanina (Virrey, 1973
Concierto En La Voz De Tania Libertad (Virrey, 1974
La Dulce Voz De: (Virrey, 1974
Alguien Cantando Philips, 1982
Como Una Campana (De Cristal) (Philips, 1984
Me Voy Pa’la Pachanga (Philips, 1986
Nuevamente… Boleros Mercurio, 1987
TrovaTrovadiccion (NGS, 1987 Alfonsina y El Mar (CBS, 1989)
Mexico Lindo y Querido (Columbia, 1989)
Razón De Vivir (CBS, 1989)
Mucho Corazón (CBS, 1989)
Canta A José Alfredo Jiménez (CBS, 1990)
Boleros de Hoy (Columbia, 1991)
Africa En America (Sony Music, 1995) Amar Amando (Sony Music, 1995)
Himno Al Amor (Dende Records, 1997)
Armando La Libertad (Azteca Music, 1998) La Libertad De Manzareno (Columbia, 1998) Costa Negra (Lusafrica, 2001) Negro Color (Lusafrica, 2004) Arias De Opera – ¿Y… Por Qué No? (Telmex, 2010)
One of the most important interpreters of Peruvian music, Eva Ayllón began singing at the age of three, under her grandmother’s tutelage. Within a few years she was singing at youth competitions and on television and radio. During that time, she also developed herself as a leading exponent of “musica criolla.”
Her Peruvian discography counts more than 20 albums, and she has received more than 8 awards in Peru.
In 1989 she formed, Los Hijos del Sol, together with Alex Acuña. The group represents an all-star cast of Peruvian musicians, reunited with the purpose of refreshing and promoting Peruvian music for the world. The musicians came together in 1989 to record a project that draws on traditional Peruvian genres – known popularly as “m?sica criolla” – developing them in a context of more sophisticated arrangements and unconventional instrumentation. The project lasted for several years, as Peruvian musicians from all corners of the world returned to Peru periodically to perform and record, and created tremendous influence on the music scene in Peru. The original recordings and the subsequent live performances of Los Hijos del Sol established a landmark in the history of Peruvian music.
As a solo artists, Ayllón focuses on the elegant and lively genres of the coastal plains of Lima in particular. She is known for singing the land?o the festejo, and the vals; all mestizo blends of Peru’s indigenous, African, and Spanish musical heritage. Call-and-response, complex syncopation, and polyrhythms combine with sweet, melancholic melodies to create a sound unique to Peru’s diverse ancestry.
Eva Ayllon moved to the United States in December. She started a new life in New Jersey with her husband and two children. Peru South America
Los Kipus Con Eva Ayllón (Odeon Del Peru, 1977)
Esta Noche… (Sono Radio, 1979)
Al Ritmo De… (Sono Radio, 1980)
Señoras Y Señores… (Sono Radio, 1981)
Cuando Hacemos El Amor (Sono Radio, 1982)
Eva Ayllon (CBS Discos Del Peru, 1983)
Ritmo Negroide Al Estilo De… (Sono Radio, 1984)
Eva Ayllón en Escena (CBS Discos, 1984)
Para Mi Gente (CBS Discos Del Peru, 1985)
Para Todos (CBS Discos Del Peru, 1986)
Huellas (CBS Discos Del Peru, 1987)
Gracias A La Vida (Discos Independientes, 1993)
Para Tenerte (Discos Independientes, 1994)
Ritmo Color y Sabor (Discos Independientes, 1996)
To My Country – Contemporary Peruvian Music (Nido, 2002) Eva! Leyenda Peruana (Times Square Records, 2004) Kimba, Fa, Malambo, Neque (Play Music & Video, 2009)
40 Years Of Afro Peruvian Classics (2010)
Celebra 40 Años Enamorada Del Perú (11y6 Discos, 2010)
Eva Ayllón + Inti Illimani Histórico (SURA, 2012) Mujeres Con Cajones – Live At Miami-Dade County Auditorium (Angels’ Dawn Records, 2014)
Born in Pativilca, Peru, 100 miles north of Lima, Alejandro Neciosup Acuña, better known as Alex Acuña was born into a musical family that inspired him and helped shape him as a musician. His father and five brothers were all musicians. Alex taught himself how to play the drums from the age of four. By the time Alex turned ten, he was already playing in local bands. As a teenager, he moved to Lima and became one of Peru’s most accomplished session drummers, performing on many recording projects for artists, as well as film and television productions. At 18, he joined the great Perez Prado’s big band. He later played with such diverse greats as Elvis Presley and Diana Ross, until he joined Weather Report in the ’70s.
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1978, he has recorded with countless artists, including Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston and Chick Corea.
In 2000, Alex Acuña was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Traditional Tropical Latin” category for his album, “Alex Acuña y Su Acuarela de Tambores – Rhythms for a New Millenium.” His South American roots, long-time association with Caribbean genres, and his deep understanding of all genres of contemporary music have made him one of the most accomplished and well-rounded musicians on the scene today.
In 1989 she formed, Los Hijos del Sol, together with Eva Ayllón. The group represents an all-star cast of Peruvian musicians, reunited with the purpose of refreshing and promoting Peruvian music for the world. The musicians came together in 1989 to record a project that draws on traditional Peruvian genres – known popularly as “musica criolla” – developing them in a context of more sophisticated arrangements and unconventional instrumentation. The project lasted for several years, as Peruvian musicians from all corners of the world returned to Peru periodically to perform and record, and created tremendous impact on the music scene in Peru. The original recordings and the subsequent live performances of Los Hijos del Sol established a landmark in the history of Peruvian music.
In 2002, Acuña released Los Hijos del Sol’s debut CD, To My Country. It explores the entire spectrum of genres and sounds from Peru. The work includes traditional Peruvian rhythms such as festejos, valses, landos, huaynos, and even such popular styles as salsa and Latin jazz.
Straight Ahead (Pa’lante) (Discovery Records, 1980)
Another Time, Another Place (Pausa Records, 1984) Thinking Of You (Invitation, 1990)
The Juggler (Swinging Banana Records, 1995)
Rumbero’s Poetry (Elephant, 1999) Acuarela De Tambores – Top Percussion (Rhythms For A New Millennium) (DCC Compact Classics, 2000)
Isla Negra (Crecycle Music, 2000)
To My Country (Contemporary Peruvian Music) (Nido, 2002)
Bongó De Van Gogh (Tonga Productions, 2002) No accent (Nido, 2005)
Brown Street (Intuition Records, 2006)
Jungle City (Alessa Records, 2009)
¡Ritmo! (Clavo Records, 2011) Barxeta (Losen Records, 2012)
Peruvian flutist and composer Cesar Peredo studied flute at the National Conservatory of Lima. Peredo continued his studies at the Hochschule fur Musik in Detmold, Germany, under the tutelage of Michael Achilles, who was a student of Hans Peter Schmitz (principal soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra). He later studied privately in Los Angeles, California, with Arthur Hobermann, one of the most popular flutists in the Hollywood area.
At the same time he was studying in Europe, he attended master classes and courses with renowned soloists such as Paul Meisen, Hans Peter Schmitz, Maxence Larrieu, Andreas Blau, William Bennett,and others.
After returning to Peru, he studied composition with Celso Garrido Lecca and Enrique Iturriaga. In 2001, he won an honorable mention in a composition contest organized by the American Flute Association.
He has performed and/or recorded popular music with renowned Peruvian and international artists such as Placido Domingo, Zamphir, Joan Manuel Serrat, Juan Diego Florez, Pedro Aznar, Fito Paez, Tania Libertad, Gian Marco, Alex Acuña, Eva Ayll?n, Cecilia Barraza, Pepe Vasquez, Dave Valentin, Nestor Torres, Orlando “Maraca” Valle and others.
He participated on the Jolgorio CD of Peru Negro, which was nominated for a Grammy award in 2004 and 2005.
As a classical music soloist, he has performed with all Peruvian orchestras, interpreting concerts for flute and orchestra, some of which had never been performed before in Peru.
As a jazz and world music flutist he has recorded with the most important Peruvian artists.
For 10 years, he was principal soloist with the Lima Philharmonic Orchestra.
Currently, he is principal soloist with the Prolirica Symphony Orchestra (Peru) and conductor of the group “Los de adentro” (jazz & world music with Peruvian roots).
Despertando (Adagio, 1999)
Pensamento (Adagio, 2000)
Cosas de Negros (Adagio, 2004)
A Felicidade en Vivo (Adagio, 2007)
Ciro Hurtado is a guitarist-composer from Peru who has been actively performing since the early 1970s. His early musical career started during his high school years in Lima, performing in music festivals, theater recitals, weddings, birthdays and even funerals. At this time, Lima was experiencing a revival of traditional music, while the radio air waves were saturated with rock music. These two forces are the major influences in his musical style.
He arrived to the USA in 1975 where he studied guitar with private teachers and at the Guitar Institute of Technology. Later he joined Strunz & Farah for a few years performing at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Vancouver Folk Festival in Canada, Havana Classical Guitar Festival in Cuba, Kennedy Center and a tour of Peru. His participation with them was documented in the audiophile album Misterio for the label Water Lily Acoustics.
Ciro is one of the founding members and currently the musical director of the group Huayucaltia. He has toured extensively in the United States and Peru with them, sharing the stage with artists such as Jackson Browne, Sting, Holly Near and Carlos Vives. He has recorded and co-produced six albums with Huayucaltia: Despertar, Caminos, Horizontes, Amazonas, Or?genes and Destinos.
As a solo artist he has produced and recorded five albums where he leads a Latin jazz band comprised of top Los Angeles musicians featuring notable players such as Justo Almario and Pedro Eustache, among many others. His solo effort includes In My Mind, Tales From Home, on Rom Records, The Magic Hour (collaborative effort with his wife Cindy Harding), Guitarra, under his own label, and Echoes of the Andes on the Canadian label Metacom. In addition, he has produced and recorded albums for LA Law’s Michele Greene, Conjunto Jard?n, and many other talented artists. Most recently he was awarded the prestigious 2001/2002 Durfee Master Musician Fellowship.
Ciro has scored and participated musically in various feature films and documentaries such as Baraka, Dead Women in Lingerie, Max is Missing, Hope Street, Monsters and at the request of Ry Cooder did a short appearance in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice.
Ciro’s guitar work ranges from the very traditional Latin American genres to the more sophisticated fusion Latin-Jazz idioms. His fine command of the instrument borrows from the classical techniques as well as alternate plectrum picking for high intensity solos. Pieces written by Ciro evoke motifs, landscapes and exciting elements of South American styles and rhythms, placing him among a select generation of Latin American composers.
Reynaldo Campos De la Colina founded the group Perú Negro in the village of El Carmen, on The 26th of February 1969. El Carmen is a village approximately 2 hours south of Lima. The town looks much as it did nearly a century ago, an old colonial town, a park in the center, a large Spanish church facing this square, and about 20 blocks of pastel pained stone houses divided by dusty dirt roads. Today, as always, music in the village of El Carmen is something that you won’t find in concert halls. Instead, you’ll find people in this predominately black village singing and dancing in the streets and in corner bars.
Campos’ mission was to both preserve and develop Afro-Peruvian music and dance. Decades later, the group is recognized around the world as one of the leading exponents of Black Peruvian culture. They are no longer based in El Carmen, having moved to the megalopolis of Lima. It is a city almost bursting at the seams, full of traffic, shopping malls, slums, old Spanish architecture, picturesque balconies, and spectacular ocean vistas. It is the new center for Afro-Peruvian music. In this city of contrasts, amidst the trendy neighborhood of Barranco is the upscale night-club Manos Morenos. On most weekends, it is where you can find the legendary Perú Negro.
While Peruvians have known for decades about Perú Negro’s music, many in North America and Europe only first heard it five years ago when David Byrne and Yale Evelev of Luaka Bop released the landmark compilation, “The Soul of Black Perú”. The album featured many of Perú’s legends, including Susana Baca, Lucila Campos, and of course Perú Negro.
Peru Negro’s first internationally-available recording, Sangre de un Don (Heritage of a Gentleman), was released by Times Square Records in the US in Spring 2001.
Ronaldo Campos de la Colina, the founder of Perú Negro, passed away on Saturday, August 25, 2001. He died of cardiac failure. The ensemble continued despite this setback. In recent years, the artistic direction of Perú Negro has been led by Campos’ son Ronny Campos, Jr.
Biography edited from notes by Dan Rosenberg (Courtesy of World Connection) with additional material by Angel Romero (World Music Portal).
Andina: The Sound of The Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 is a compilation of Peruvian bands from the late 1960s and 1970s that played tropical dance music. While Americans and Europeans at the time were exposed to Andean flute music ensembles, a very different sound was coming out of Peru.
The bands featured in this compilation are characterized by vibrant, seductive percussion. The band formats range from groups with surf-like electric guitars and vintage organs to more traditional lineups with brass and accordion. The cumbia rhythm is present in many of the songs. Although this dance came from Colombia, it was transformed in other parts of South America.
The artists featured include Los Demonios Del Mantaro, Los Compadres Del Ande, Los Walker’s de Huánuco, La Peruanita, Los Bárbaros Del Centro, Los Compadres Del Ande, Los Bilbao, Manolo Avalos, Lucho Neves y su Orquesta, Los Jelwees, Los Sabios Del Ritmo, Alicia Maguiña con Mario Cavagnaro y su Sonora Sensación, Conjunto Los Luceritos De Casacancha, Huiro y su Conjunto, Los Turistas Del Mantaro, Los Bárbaros Del Centro, and Conjunto Kori Cinta de Huancavelica.
Andina: The Sound of The Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 is an album for fans of chicha and vintage Peruvian music.
Ikaro del Amor is a new 4-track EP released by a veteran Peruvian band popular with chicha lovers. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos pioneered Peru’s “sonido amazónico” (Amazonian sound), a mix of cumbia, psychedelic and surf rock, and Latin American tropical dance rhythms.
Los Wembler’s de Iquitos was started by the Sanchez brothers who grew up in the Amazonian city of Iquitos.
Ikaro del Amor should apeal to fans of chicha and Peruvian psychedelic tropical music.
Susana Baca was born in Lima on May 24, 1944, although she grew up in the small black coastal barrio of Chorrillos, “populated with fishermen and cats,” Susana remembers, where the descendants of slaves have lived since the days of the Spanish empire.
She grew up surrounded by music and her mother’s good cooking. Señora Baca taught her daughter what she knew of both. “My father played guitar and my mother showed me my first steps – she was dancer, not a singer. I listened to the radio and watched Mexican movies, all those great rumba dancers and Cuban musicians like Pérez Prado and Beny Moré.”
As a child, she would accompany her mother when she cleaned homes and says that the only way she could keep still was when her mother put on classical music. Her father, who was a driver, was also the barrio’s own street guitarist and would often play outdoors with a group of neighborhood musicians. Their instruments were usually guitars and a percussive instrument called the cajón (a wooden box).
Despite childhood asthma, Susana avidly pursued folk singing and dancing. “Every June 29, there was the Chorrillos festival, with a religious procession for the patron saint. It was very pretty. The townspeople carried the image of Saint Peter onto a boat out to sea to bless the water and the season’s fishing. The next day everyone in town went down to the beach. The old folks played guitar and cajón, everyone sang.”
It was at school that her talents were noticed, and as she took an interest in the poets of Peru, she began to see herself as a link in the cultural work of preservation and instruction. She formed an experimental music group combining poetry and song. Through grants from Peru’s Institute of Modern Art and the National Institute of Peruvian Culture, she began performing. At the prestigious international Agua Dulce festival in Lima, she took top honors.
Susana began to attract attention, the most flattering of which was the admiration of the late Chabuca Granda. One of the great figures of Latin American song, composer and singer Granda was known throughout the Americas for her works in many idioms, but it was only late in her life that she turned her attention to the sounds of Afro-Peru. In Susana she must have seen a worthy successor, and hired her as personal assistant, inviting the young singer into her home. “She was the mother of my singing,” Susana recalls. “One of her records she dedicated to me, and it had a lyric, ‘Don’t forget about missing me.'”
At Chabuca’s insistence, Susana was given her first opportunity to record professionally in Peru. But the composer’s sudden death in 1983 left all deals off. Susana’s work continued, but it would be years later before any label sought to bring her to a wider audience.
Her journey to success has been a long one. She fondly remembers the day in 1995 when she got a phone call in Peru saying that David Byrne wanted to meet with her. She could not believe it at first, and admits that, while she knew of him, she did not know much about him. “He wasn’t in my world at the time,” she says.
She decided that it would be better to cook a meal for him at her house rather than go out to a fancy restaurant. She recalls, somewhat embarrassed, that she had to take her large dog outside to keep him from excitedly jumping on Byrne when he arrived for dinner. It was the first meeting in what has proved to be a fruitful artistic partnering since she signed to his recording label, Luaka Bop.
“My repertoire is both old and new. It has to be that way. That’s how you mature in life, and how you grow into your culture. I have traditional songs about the life of our grandparents in the countryside, others are more about rhythm and dancing. These are the festejo, the landó, the golpe é tierra. There are songs more tied to city life and more ‘composed’ music: the waltz, the marinera and the zamacueca. Then there are those which in their joy and pain share a diversity of rhythmic and interpretative aims like Afro-Peruvian culture, they are mixtures of very different forms.”
The resilience of Susana Baca’s talent lies in these tensions, ones which have haunted a people for centuries, and continue to rattle like ghosts throughout the history of the Americas. With her gifts of song and dance, Susana lights a way beyond the past, a way into healing. “I never wanted to become a museum for the dead. Interpreting the old and traditional songs in a new way has always been my greatest goal,” she avers. “This is what unites the old and the new, all that is ours in an unending story.”
Susana Baca’s year 2000 release Eco de Sombras, represented her further emergence from the rich Afro-Peruvian musical tradition first introduced to North American listeners on The Soul of Black Peru, and her self-titled Luaka Bop debut. Alongside the cajón are the modern sensibilities of such guest musicians as John Medeski and Tom Waits, and veterans Marc Ribot on guitar and Oreg Cohen on bass.
Baca does not consider herself a pan-American artist. She is not seeking “crossover” success in the English-speaking realm. She is quite comfortable staying in Peru and worries what would happen to her art if she ever left for good. Besides, she says, “I suffer without the food of Peru.”
While she fully intends to stick to her roots in Peru, she was on quite a journey in 2005: recording her album ‘Travesias’ (Passages) in upstate New York in the spring, and traveling to the Congo before returning to the United States to begin a fellowship to study the music of the African Diaspora. As fate would have it, she began her fellowship in New Orleans-three weeks before Hurricane Katrina came along. The year-long fellowship began in August of 2005 at Tulane University, where Baca planned to study Creole music and the work of Louis Armstrong. When the hurricane hit the city, everything came to a halt.
“I couldn’t believe-the situation,” she recalled from her small office at the University of Chicago, where she was offered a place to continue her fellowship. “When you live in Latin America you expect the government to do nothing. You know that you are on your own.”
Luckily, an artist friend arranged for a car to get her out of the city shortly before it was decimated. As she fled New Orleans with nothing but a suitcase, she looked out at the drowning city and felt an intense, deep-sinking feeling as she saw the faces of people staggering on the side of the road. “I felt that they had been abandoned,” she said softly, tears welling up in her eyes. “I felt paralyzed.”
She was scheduled to perform a series of concerts in Helsinki immediately after the evacuation and described the experience as cathartic following the destruction in New Orleans. “I had to alleviate that tragedy through music.”
It is this kind of quiet intensity that pervades her Travesias album. It is a record she describes as a personal dialogue, a collection of intimate moments for the person who is alone and who is in love. The songs are stripped down, quiet, like a late-night conversation.
In the hauntingly poignant “Merci Bon Dieu,” which was written by Franz Cassius, the childhood music teacher other guitarist Marc Ribot, she sings:
Thank you Lord Keep all that nature provides for us Keep it for when misery comes for us
While she does not consider herself a religious person in the traditional Roman Catholic sense that dominates Latin America, it has influenced who she is. “The first thing you learn in religion is to share. I feel that that is what I am doing.”
Baca and her husband, Ricardo Pereida, started a cultural center, the Instituto Negro Continuo “Black Continuum” in Lima in 1998 with the goal to teach children about music and art in her hometown of Santa Barbara, Peru.
She is very hands-on with the center and describes a Christmas concert the children performed as one of the happiest days of her life. One of her ideals is to give a voice to people who otherwise might not be heard. “I proposed to learn the foundations of our past – to know more about the blacks and their grandparents, who were my grandparents as well. I wanted to know that, aside from being good football players and cooks, we were a culture that had contributed to the formation of a nation,” she says.
Years of labor have created this facility for the exploration, expression and creation of black Peruvian culture. “It began as a need for a place where young people could experience cultural investigation and music making. Now we have a library, an archive, a performance and dance space.”
The artistic growth demonstrated on her debut album have developed concurrently with the institute. “I express myself with the songs and poetry of my people,” Susana explains. “I choose songs that speak to me: they’re tender, melancholic, rhythmic and poetic. And a few of them are a little risqué.”
Despite the tenderness in Baca’s music, it is influenced by a history of political engagement that was aroused with her increasing awareness of societal oppression. As a young woman, Baca was compelled to protest the stark role for women in the church and in a machista society. “I have always been a leftist,” she says, adding how she would sing with a feminist group at fiery, anti-establishment rallies.
Her main literary influences include writers like Arturo Pérez Reverte, Alfredo Bryce, Javier Marias and Mario Vargas Llosa. She has a kinship to Vargas Llosa, in the tradition of Peruvian social protest in her understated manner and actions against machismo and racial prejudice-a manner that never becomes propaganda.
On her trip to the Congo, she saw firsthand the legacy and impact of colonialism on the population. “It’s hard to get people to think and act for themselves after so many years of colonial rule,” Baca says. While there, she performed along with a children’s choir for a series of concerts. “When children learn to think for themselves, it opens doors,” she says.
Her success and performances around the world have admittedly changed her perspective on life. “It’s embarrassing to be applauded in restaurants.”
Susana Baca was appointed Minister of Culture of Peru in 2011 by the Ollanta Humala administration.
Poesía y Canto Negro (1987) Vestida de Vida, Canto Negro de las Américas! (Kardum, 1991) Fuego y Agua (Elephant, 1992) Susana Baca (Luaka Bop 72438-49034-2-8, 1997) Eco de Sombras (Luaka Bop 72438-48912-2-0, 2000) Lamento Negro (Tumi Music, 2001) Espiritu Vivo (Luaka Bop 72438-11946-2-1, 2002) Travesias (Luaka Bop, 2006) Seis Poemas (Luaka Bop, 2010) Mama (Editora Pregón, 2010) Cantos de Adoración (2010) Afrodiaspora (Luaka Bop, 2011)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion