Susana Baca’s Afrodiaspora

Cover of Susana Baca Afrodiaspora(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.”

http://youtu.be/4JxPFMUuouQ

…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.

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The Bunker Studio: Williamsburg’s Best-Kept Secret Won’t be Secret for Long

Photo of a tracking room at The Bunker.
The Bunker Studio 2.0
I stopped in at Aaron Nevezie’s and John Davis’s new-and-improved Bunker studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn earlier this month. Both Aaron and John have been sending projects to Scott Hull and Randy Merrill for mastering over the past couple years — projects which, we’ve noticed, consistently sound excellent. It was time to find out a little more about these guys — especially since they’ve just reopened their successful studio in a larger and beautifully designed space.

John and Aaron met while studying in the Jazz program at The New School in the late ’90s. Their primary instruments were bass and guitar (respectively), with engineering experience developing, as it does for so many of us, through recording themselves and their friends.

Before too long the space they were living in was accumulating gear to a degree that wasn’t conducive to normal human habitation, and eventually recording won out and the place became their first studio.

This converted basement spot in Williamsburg, where they worked for about eight years, saw The Bunker slowly aquiring experience, clientele and equipment. While at this location they recorded the track “Tighten Up” from the Grammy-winning Black Keys album Brothers. They also worked with Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter, Matisyahu, Chris Speed, James Iha, Moby, Ben Allison and many more. Label clients include Tzadik, Wind-Up and TVT.

Sometime in 2010 Aaron and John realized they might have outgrown the basement location. The way John tells it, they had some friends looking for studio space, and went along on their scouting trips to see what was out there. It was only after they saw the (now built) location on South 2nd Street that they realized that they did, in fact, need to upgrade.

Photo of the Studio A Control Room at the Bunker
The Studio A control room.
And what an upgrade it is; the new space is beautiful. I’ll let Aaron & John describe it — this is from their website.

The new space was opened in November 2011 and was designed by Rod Gervais. Studio A easily allows for live tracking of large ensembles with excellent sight lines and isolation. The huge live room with 25′ ceilings, string and rhythm rooms and iso booth each have their own unique character and provide inspiring acoustic environments in which to play.

Studio B is a great overdub and production studio with a large control room with natural light. The live room is 230sqft with 12 ft ceilings and is home to the Yamaha upright piano and is plenty big enough for tracking drums, a string quartet or anything else that doesn’t require multiple rooms.

Both studios, but especially Studio A, are aesthetically inspiring. You definitely feel like you’re in a special place — and that’s a tremendous plus when you need to focus and get creative.

Not mentioned in the description above is the control room, which also has a pleasant, inspiring atmosphere. The room features a Custom 26 channel Auditronics board (heavily modified by Joel Hamilton and Purple Audio). The sound is great — controlled, but alive.

It’s very impressive that in a time when studios are supposed to be struggling, Aaron and John have dug in to create a clearly expensive space like this. They kept the costs down by pretty much doing everything themselves. They know how many nails got hammered. And they pretty much do everything on a day-to-day basis too. From opening up in the morning, mopping the floors and paying the bills to booking the sessions, setting up the mics and pressing “record” It’s usually either John or Aaron doing it.

Photo of John Davis and Aaron Nevezie building the Bunker.
Ah, the glamour of the music biz. John Davis (left) and Aaron Nevezie in the thick of it.

Does it get to be a bit much? “Sometimes I’ll get home from a session at 10 p.m. and I’m looking forward to getting some rest when I realize that some emails have come in and I need to handle some booking. So at that moment, yeah, it can be a little tiring. But for the most part we split the work load really well between us. And at the end of the day, it’s worth it. That we have this place is amazing. And there really isn’t any other way we could pull it off.”

Aaron and John both stressed that they aim to keep the place affordable — and it is, very much so. Booking Studio A costs $750 a day, and Studio B is $450, both including engineer — really incredible, especially when you consider the kind of sound you can get, and the atmosphere you get to create in. Artists and labels clearly know what a good deal it is, because both rooms are well-booked through April.

So, don’t sleep on the new Bunker studio — we can’t recommend them enough here at Masterdisk.

MORE INFO
The Bunker Studio website: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/
Gear list: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/gear/
Bunker profiled at Sonic Scoop: http://www.sonicscoop.com/2012/01/25/brooklyn-2-0-the-new-bunker-studios-offers-next-level-recording-experience/

Facebook Vinyl Giveaway: Javelin’s “Canyon Candy” EP

Head on over to the Masterdisk Facebook page to enter to win a copy of the limited edition vinyl 10″ release of Javelin’s Canyon Candy on the Luaka Bop label!

Photo of the Canyon Candy label
Canyon Candy Side B
Photo of Scott Hull with Canyon Candy
Mastering engineer Scott Hull with Canyon Candy in the Masterdisk back lounge.
Photo of Alex DeTurk with Javelin's Canyon Candy
Cutting engineer Alex DeTurk with Canyon Candy in front of the lathe.
photo of the Canyon Candy runoff groove with Masterdisk stamp.
Note the MASTERDISK stamp in the deadwax and Alex's initials to the right.

The Cuddle Magic All-Analog Vinyl Project

Here at Masterdisk HQ today Scott Hull has been mastering the all-analog LP version of Info Nympho, a new album by Brooklyn/Philly band and songwriting collective Cuddle Magic.

This is the real deal – the old school way to make an LP.

As you can see from the photos below, Scott first spliced together the master from the original 1/4″ tape in his mastering room. Then, once the master was edited together, Scott took the tape to the cutting room, where he and Alex DeTurk got it ready to go onto lacquer. They then listened closely, familiarizing themselves with the program and taking note of any adjustments they might need to make during the cut.

Alex did the cutting once all of the mastering decisions were made.

While hanging around documenting the process, I’ve happily heard many of the songs, a few times each. It’s a beautiful recording and the LP is going to sound fantastic.

I should mention that Info Nympho is a Kickstarter project — one that successfully raised its funding goal on September 1. Sweet! Check out what they did here. Find more about Cuddle Magic at their website: http://www.cuddle-magic.com/

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Scott Hull on the New Sting Box Set “25 Years”

I thought we’d take a moment to highlight a particularly interesting release coming up that was mastered here in-house by Scott Hull: the 3 CD, 1 DVD Sting box set 25 Years (due out September 27 on A&M Records). I sat down with Scott and he took me through the process of mastering this ambitious project. Hope you enjoy.

James: Hi Scott. Can you tell our blog readers about the new Sting set?

Scott: It’s an overview of Sting’s solo career — a 25 year span! Considering how production styles changed over that time, it was a very interesting challenge to make it all sound compatible. And really, not only was there a difference in the productions, but there’s just about every genre except metal in there! Rock, jazz, classical, folk… a very wide range.

Image of Sting box set 25 Years
James: Who is the set for? Diehard fans? New listeners?

Scott: I believe the intent is that it’s for both, which makes for some balancing. The established fans want the music to sound like they remember it, but new fans might benefit from a fresh think. I can tell you that this is not just “louder, brighter” mastering. The set has to communicate the core elements of Sting’s music: the drama, passion, intensity, creativity, whimsy — all of it. Some songs are intended to be big and some are delicate. The box balances that so a listener can put it on and hear the similarity and contrasts of the music through all the permutations of Sting’s career. We took an enormous amount of time to make sure we stayed true to the music while putting it in a new context for today’s listener.

James: When you say “we” who else do you mean?

Scott: That’s the producer, Rob Mathes, and Sting and his team.

James: Rob was very hands-on during the Symphonicities and Live in Berlin projects. Was that the same here?

Scott: Rob was there at every step of the mastering, sometimes attending, sometimes virtually. He was very interested in source selection — in making sure we found the right versions of songs. The complete and final versions.

James: Was there some difficulty in securing sources?

Scott: Some. It’s something that I’m starting to see more and more: a serious problem with the documentation of lots of music created in the 1990s and 2000s. As artists moved to smaller studios and home studios in the 80s and 90s, documentation practices went downhill. So now, years later, we find ourselves looking for masters, in boxes that aren’t comprehensively labeled, and in digital files that have no metadata. Is it a mix master? A flat transfer? The remastered version? The word “master” becomes meaningless when it comes to sorting out the files. In the case of the Sting materials, there was a little difficulty in a couple cases. At those points we had to just listen, compare with our ears to determine what version we had, and come as close to the intended result as possible.

I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute — and this isn’t related to the Sting set per se. But this metadata problem is a big issue. There’s 20 – 30 years of digital recordings made now that have no metadata associated with it to tell you what it was made on, the sampling rate, or the machine. digital You’ve got 24/96 files that you have to closely scrutinize to find out if that’s the native sample rate or if it’s been upsampled. The metadata is only as accurate as the person entering it.

James: Can you give me any specific examples from the Sting project?

Scott: We received many files from Iron Mountain for Bring On the Night (the 1986 2 CD album) — they scoured the vaults and we found that all they had was the remastered stuff. We had to compare copies of the original and remastered CDs against the files we received to determine what was what. Eventually we found what we needed but it took some sleuthing. And keep in mind that this is a very major artist recording for major labels. You can only imagine what we sometimes go through trying to find the best sources for independent artists or artists who recorded for small labels.

James: Can you mention any surprises for fans on the new set?

Scott: Some songs from Dream of the Blue Turtles were remixed, and even if you loved the original versions these make for a great new experience. And overall, I think the context of the whole set really makes for a surprising listen — you kind of get a new look at some of this music you may have known for years because of how the songs now sit next to each other. I think the fans are going to love it.

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Scott’s Guest Blog at The Vinyl District, Wrap Up

Tomorrow is Record Store Day and today Scott’s final blog post at The Vinyl District went up. We really hope you’ve enjoyed the series. If you haven’t gotten enough about vinyl over these weeks, we have a few spots left open in our upcoming (May 4) FREE hands-on vinyl event at the Masterdisk studios. Details about that are here.

Week 13: Changers, oddities, and good-bye for now.

Week 12: All about deadwax, part 2.

Week 11: All about deadwax, part 1.

Week 10: How many grooves are there on a typical record?

Week 9: An interview with master cutting engineer Tony Dawsey.

Week 8: What happened to my masters?

Week 7: How quiet are your records?

Week 6: Is your turntable cartridge doing a good enough job for you?

Week 5: All about the RIAA EQ curve: the standard that made the LP possible.

Week 4: All About the Groove, Part 2: the stereo cut explained.

Week 3: All About the Groove, Part 1: a really close look at some grooves.

Week 2: An appreciation of the vinyl aesthetic.

Week 1: Introduction: the basics of cutting records.

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Scott’s Guest Blog at The Vinyl District, Weeks 9-10

It’s been a couple weeks since one of these Vinyl blog updates here on The Masterdisk Record. Last week (Week 9) we posted an interview Scott did with Tony Dawsey about his vinyl cutting experience. This week (Week 10) Scott gets deeper into the specs for vinyl set by the RIAA and answers the question “How many grooves are there on a typical record?”

Week 10: How many grooves are there on a typical record?

Week 9: An interview with master cutting engineer Tony Dawsey.

Week 8: What happened to my masters?

Week 7: How quiet are your records?

Week 6: Is your turntable cartridge doing a good enough job for you?

Week 5: All about the RIAA EQ curve: the standard that made the LP possible.

Week 4: All About the Groove, Part 2: the stereo cut explained.

Week 3: All About the Groove, Part 1: a really close look at some grooves.

Week 2: An appreciation of the vinyl aesthetic.

Week 1: Introduction: the basics of cutting records.

Scott’s Guest Blog at The Vinyl District, Week 8

This week at The Vinyl District Scott Hull discusses the different ways that vinyl reissues get made, particularly when the original masters are lost. And for those of you who will be at SXSW next week, we’ve listed some notable vinyl events at the end of the post.

Week 8: What happened to my masters?

Week 7: How quiet are your records?

Week 6: Is your turntable cartridge doing a good enough job for you?

Week 5: All about the RIAA EQ curve: the standard that made the LP possible.

Week 4: All About the Groove, Part 2: the stereo cut explained.

Week 3: All About the Groove, Part 1: a really close look at some grooves.

Week 2: An appreciation of the vinyl aesthetic.

Week 1: Introduction: the basics of cutting records.

Scott’s Guest Blog at The Vinyl District, Week 7

What can make a mild-mannered mastering engineer bend lacquers into a V-shape over his knee in anger? What has thrown many a sane mastering engineer into a foaming stupor? Find out in Week 7 of Scott Hull’s guest blog at The Vinyl District!

Week 7: How quiet are your records?

Week 6: Is your turntable cartridge doing a good enough job for you?

Week 5: All about the RIAA EQ curve: the standard that made the LP possible.

Week 4: All About the Groove, Part 2: the stereo cut explained.

Week 3: All About the Groove, Part 1: a really close look at some grooves.

Week 2: An appreciation of the vinyl aesthetic.

Week 1: Introduction: the basics of cutting records.