Twice winner of the coveted Latin American Grammy Award, for the Best Folk Album for Lamento Negro in 2002 and again for her participation in the Latin-American super group Los Super Seven which included Mexican stars from Los Lobos and the Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, Susana Baca is the singer who has introduced Afro-Peruvian music to the world.
Listen to her here: youtube.com/watch?v=c8xuRPIdDjc
The musical legacy of the Africans who created communities along the Peruvian coast is her passion. Her whole life has been dedicated to celebrating her African heritage keeping the irresistible rhythms of her ancestors alive.
Born in 1944, Baca grew up in the village of Chorillos on the outskirts of Lima, inhabited mainly by black fishermen. The artist says their lives were poor, but they spent time playing various instruments, singing and dancing. At the turn of the 70s and 80s, the Peruvian composer and singer Chabuca Granda became her mentor. It is thanks to her that Baca started to deal professionally with the Afro-Peruvian repertoire.
The success came in 1995 with the release of David Byrne’s compilation album The Soul of Black Peru, featuring Baca’s Maria Lando track. Since that time, Baca has regularly released records, most of them at Byrne’s label Luaka Bop.
Her voice is compared with that of Cesaria Evora or Celia Cruz. Baca often writes her songs in cooperation with recognized Latin poets, using her soft melancholic voice to portray evocative images. Many of her songs take in their form from typical Afro-Peruvian and Creole music, including landό and vals criolla, combining the elements of the African, Andean and Spanish heritage.
In 1992, together with her Bolivian husband, Ricardo Pereyra, Susana Baca founded the institution dedicated to the documentation and popularization of the Afro-Peruvian tradition in Lima Instituto Negro Continuo. She also did extensive research on the history of descendants of African slaves who came to Peru during the Spanish conquest of Latin America in the sixteenth century.
Released in 2000 Eco de Sombras was a huge international success, featuring, among others, such artists as John Medeski and Tom Waits. It talked about the problems of the region Baca comes from: Peruvian farmers’ fight for survival and the painful issue of African slavery.
In 2011, Baca was appointed by the President of Peru Ollanta Humala the Minister of Culture, and thus she became the first person of Afro-Peruvian origin in the history of independent Peru to take ministerial office.
In her own words, of her music she says: “I feel the music of Cuba, Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina and Puerto Rica as if it were mine, it is my essence, like the
drummers of Guatire from Venezuela, I feel like they are talking to my soul, even though I am not Venezuelan I feel a part of this.”
And of her African heritage she says: “ I have traveled to many places where Afro Descendents live in Latin America many of them poor and forgotten places, neglected and excluded by governments where there is a social exclusion but at the same time I feel that they have a spiritual strength to express the African presence. So I try to sing songs from these places, even though I left out a lot. I celebrate the shared blood and the way that the African presence has influenced Latin America.”