(This post is also available in Spanish.)
Afro-Peruvian music experienced a second revival around the time when David Byrne and Yale Evelev of Luaka Bop released the compilation album The Soul of Black Peru (mastered by Masterdisk’s Scott Hull) in 1995. The release granted world-wide recognition to artists such as Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Chabuca Granda, Peru Negro, Eva Ayllon and Susana Baca among others, launching the careers of several into the World Music limelight. Eva Ayllon and Peru Negro were both nominated for three Grammys each and Susana Baca won a Grammy in 2002 for her first solo album Lamento Negro.
If you catch her live or listen to her latest CD, Afrodiaspora (mastered by Scott Hull in 2011), you’ll be impressed by the music, but also by the energy and spirit with which she sings. Even before there was a Luaka Bop, David Byrne’s first impressions of Susana Baca were lasting. He heard her singing the song “Maria Lando” of the well respected Chabuca Granda on a cassette, and some years later when it came time for the compilation album, David remembered “the haunting intensity of her voice.” (As quoted on the Luaka Bop website.)
In fact, it took David and Yale some effort to track her down. But eventually they did. David was on tour in Austin, Texas, and happened upon an exhibition of Afro-Peruvian photographs in a gallery. They contacted the photographer, Lorry Salcedo, about providing photos for the compilation booklet, and asked him if he knew a Susana Baca. “Amazingly enough,” recounts Yale, “she was his neighbor in Lima!”
Afrodiaspora is a unified album filled with diverse popular tunes from the African Diaspora in the Americas. This is music that Baca remembers as distinctly part of her own heritage in Peru, if only because many of these genres were being played on the radio when she was a child. (The following quotes are from the Afrodiaspora page at the Luaka Bop site.)
At that time there was actually “little Peruvian music on the radio,” she remembers, so “when I heard Celia Cruz play ‘Palo Mayimbe,’ it felt like something very much ours, even though it was Cuban.” There are tunes on this album from Venezuela to New Orleans, and somehow they all have Baca’s signature Afro-Peruvian flavor, yet remain a tribute to the origins of the music. She says “this is how I feel about this record, it is our celebration of the African presence in the Americas and the way it has become a part of Latin America.”
I asked Yale Evelev about the appearance of popular bands Calle 13 and Quetzal on Afrodiaspora, and he said “it’s a roots thing.” He said it’s done on hip hop albums all the time, but apart from that, it’s important for the different audiences to know more about the roots of the music they are listening to.
Calle 13 has included Baca as well as Totó la Momposina and Seun Kuti on their recordings, and now Calle 13 and Quetzal both appear on Baca’s album. It’s a shout out to a different audience, a way to acknowledge how so many musicians are influenced by each other.
Calle 13 celebrates pan-latinamericanism in their song and video “Latinoamerica.”
…and Susana continues the party with Afrodiaspora.
Recent accolades for Susana Baca include being named Peru’s official Minister of Culture and the President of the Commission of Culture for the OAS (Organization of American States) for 2011-2013. Pomp and circumstance aside, she’s still on the road and planning to perform at New York’s Joyce Theater April 17-22 in collaboration with the dance troop Ballet Hispanico.
Here are some of Susana’s notes on the songs on Afrodiaspora (from the Luaka Bop site):
1. Detras de la Puerta: a cumbia written by the great Columbian singer/songwriter, Ivan Benavides (Bloque, Sidestepper, Carlos Vives)
2. Bendiceme: written by Javier Lazo, a young Peruvian singer-songwriter
3. Yana Runa: means Black Man in Quechua. This song honors the Afro-Indian tradition so common throughout Latin America.
4. Plena Y Bomba: Javier Lazo added some lyrics to this song to give it a Peruvian flavor; it also includes the beautiful poetry of Rene Perez (Calle 13).
5. Reina de Africa: This song weaves the flamenco, tango and panalivio rhythms, evoking the image of the African goddess who survives in our continent.
6. Baho Kende Y Palo Mayimba: Susana visited Cuba and saw Merceditas Valdes sing songs to the orishas with 35 drummers, playing as one.
7. Coco y Forro: rhythms from the Northeast of Brazil, it features Wagner Profeta, on percussion, ex member of the group Ile Aiye from Salvador, Bahia.
8. Takiti Taki: from Venezuela, one of the many complex rhythms played by the drummers of Guatuire.
9. Que Bonito tu Vestido (Featuring Quetzal): homage to Amparo Ochoa, one of Mexico’s great voices who introduced Susana to the Son Jarocho style of Veracruz.
10. Hey Pocky Way: “I saw the families in the park on Sundays [in New Orleans], cooking, singing and dancing and it brought back memories of my own experience in Chorrillos the way the culture is passed on through the generations.”
11. Canta Susana: written by Victor Merino, and sung by the famous Peruvian salsa singer, Carlos Mosquera.