World Scanner: From Peru, with Love

“My aunt lives in an alley in Loisa …drums are sounding wherever you go …the skins are talking … nobody sleeps ’till the palm trees grow legs…” “Plena y Bomba” from Afrodiaspora

"Detras De La Puerta" Susana Baca

"Bendiceme" Susana Baca

"Plena y Bomba (featuring Calle 13)" Susana Baca

Over 15 releases, Peruvian singer Susana Baca has explored the intersection of African and Latino music and culture. With a spellbinding voice and hypnotic arrangements, Baca has forged an artistic vision that celebrates inclusion and offers a deeply humanistic vision, touching on themes of struggle and transcendence. Though her themes are universal, she has focused on the people and traditions that have been marginalized in Peru. She is not only one of that country’s greatest musical exports, but also its Ministry of Culture.

Baca’s journey began in the working class neighborhoods of Chorrillos, a vibrant port district south of Lima, Peru long favored by the wealthy for its beach resorts and palatial estates, and staffed by workers forming a tapestry of émigré cultures. There, music suffused and informed life on a daily basis, and, as a young girl, Baca was pulled towards singing, dancing and listening to the stories that were carried from generation to generation. As she has said: “I began to get interested there in Chorillos”.

Years of following her muse and working to preserve Peruvian musical traditions paid off when David Byrne sought her out based on a cassette loaned to him by a friend. After signing to Byrne’s label Luaka Bop in 1995, Baca released “Maria Lando,” an indelibly sung tale set to a spare rhythmic backdrop marrying African with Latin rhythms, introduced her to an international audience in the compilation The Soul of Afro Peru.

With her latest release Afrodiaspora, Susana Baca continues her musical journey by tracing the African presence in the music of the larger Americas. From the opening track “Detras De La Puerta (Behind The Door),” Baca’s voice, supported by the Afro-Peruvian and cumbia bounce of her brilliant ensemble, weaves a bewitching spell about homesickness that segues into a lament about love.

“Bendiceme” celebrates a Christmas rite amongst the Afro-Peruvian communities that kept alive the lyrics and music of Africa while incorporating the Catholic traditions of the new land. Puerto Rican rhythms of take a front seat with ”Plena Y Bomba”, where Baca sings of neighborhoods much like her birthplace in Chorrillos. Rene Perez of Puerto Rico’s Calle 13, the Grammy-winning iconoclastic and politically engaged hip-hop group, makes a guest appearance. The song provides a microcosm of Baca’s career and artistic vision.

With her recent appointment as Minister of Culture in the newly formed Peruvian cabinet, the first Afro Peruvian woman or musician to hold this position, Baca seems uniquely placed on the edge of a cultural vanguard. One can only look forward to the continuing evolution of Susana Baca with great anticipation. -- Catherine M. Gollery

To purchase Afrodiaspora as well as other Susana Baca releases, please visit the Luaka Bop store right here.

"Detras De La Puerta" Susana Baca

"Bendiceme" Susana Baca

"Plena y Bomba (featuring Calle 13)" Susana Baca


Christopher said...

Fantastic article. Her music is heartfelt and passionate. I can feel every note of it.

David E. García Mateo said...

Peruvian music to the world!

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