Peru: Susana Baca Becomes Country’s First Black Government Minister

Susana Baca is the best-known voice of the musical and dance tradition of Afro-Peruvians, descendants of slaves. The 67-year-old won a Latin Grammy in 2002 for the album Lamento Negro, which she recorded nearly two decades earlier in Cuba.

 

Baca grew up in a coastal fishing village Chorrillos, a district of the Lima Province of Peru, and part of greater Lima. Her music is a mixture of traditional and contemporary. Her backing band features indigenous Peruvian instruments such as the cajón (“wooden box”, whose origins lie in an upturned fruit crate), udu (clay pot), and quijada (jawbone of a burro) “cheko” a dried gourd, as well as acoustic guitar and electric upright baby bass. Although many of her songs are based on traditional forms such as the landó or vals, she also incorporates elements of Cuban and Brazilian music.

 

Her songs are poetic (with lyrics composed by some of Latin America’s premier poets, with whom she collaborates), rich with evocative imagery, and her voice is delicate yet soulful. She has an elegant and engaging stage presence, gliding gracefully about the stage while singing. Her delivery is so deeply felt and emotion-filled as to project a spiritual character, even in songs that are not expressly religious in subject matter.

 

Baca is an important figure in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music within Peru (see, for example, dancers from the Perú Negro troupe, as well as “Festejo” music), which, like the culture that produced it, had previously been little recognized, but which is now regarded as an important part of Peruvian culture. Baca has contributed much to its international popularity, which began in 1995 with the release of the compilation CD The Soul of Black Peru. The album, which features the Baca song “Maria Lando“, was released by the Luaka Bop record label, which belongs to ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

 

According to several important critics Susana is more than just an Afro-Peruvian diva. Michael Heumann from “Stylus Magazine” says: “Maria Lando put Susana Baca on the world music map. Since then, she has released a number of very popular albums, most on Luka Bop, and all of incredibly high quality.”

 

With her husband, Bolivian Ricardo Pereyra, Baca founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo (Black Continuum Institute) in her seafront home in Chorrillos. It fosters the collection, preservation, and creation of Afro-Peruvian culture, music, and dance.

 

Click here for an article appearing in the UK’s Guardian.

 

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