Just over a decade ago, Luaka Bop put out a compilation of Afro-Peruvian songs and in that dark and wonderful firmament, Susana Baca’s star shone so strongly that two years later she was in the studio recording her first CD for the international market. An instant classic, Susana Baca’s eponymous debut assured her place in the Global Music All Stars.
Susana Baca would reposition the global perception of Peruvian music from an exclusive association with the pan pipes of ‘El Condor Pasa’, to key outpost in the African musical diaspora — a tradition full of fantastic melodies and percussive wealth.
The album is a mixture of poems set to music, traditional songs arranged by Susana Baca and music written for her. The lyrical level is extraordinary — even in translation. Whether it is in the political statement of pride in her race as on ‘Caras Lindas’: “Las caras lindas de mi gente negra son un desfile de melaza en flor. Que cuando pasan frente a mi, se alegra de su negrura todo el corazón (The beautiful faces of my dark people are a parade of molasses in bloom and when they pass before me their blackness cheers my heart).” Or the mystical poetry of ‘Luna Llena’, “Yo vide una garza mora dándole combate a un río. Así es como se enamora tu corazon con el mío (I saw a dark heron struggling in a river. That’s how your heart falls in love with mine.)”
Musically, Susana Baca takes the classic elements of her tradition; African percussion, Spanish guitar, Andean traditional melodies and reinvigorates them with a deft hand. She builds complexity in by exquisite layering and harmonic agility. Her ‘traditional’ sound is in fact the result of a highly evolved musical mind just as Malian Rokia Traore’s is. And there is more, ‘Se Me Van Los Pies’ owes more to the descargas of Cuban exiles and even the odd funk riff than it does to Andean music. That she can make it her own is the mark of a great musician though.
With Luaka Bop, she would explore further afield and fold ever more adventurous ingredients into her mixture but her first album with the label would stand as a declaration of origins, freedom and intent.
Susana Baca on luakabop.com
Many of her songs (and all of this album) are also available for download from Calabash Music