Susana Baca from Lima to Chicago

Susana Baca, the Grammy-winning Afro-Peruvian, singer will perform in Chicago Friday night.

And when I was in Peru in January with my colleague Elio Leturia and a group of Columbia College Chicago students we interviewed Baca at her home in Lima.

Here is a video that I took of Baca in Lima, and she sang us a brief excerpt of a song in her home studio.


Susana Baca

One of our students, Emi Peters, published a story in Spanish about that visit in today's edition of Hoy Chicago.

Here are some excerpts of Peters' story translated into English.

"Music was life," Baca says, recalling fond memories of her family singing and playing makeshift instruments made from furniture and silverware to pass the time. "We had no electricity, and no access to radio, so we would just play and sing."

Baca grew up surrounded by the rich sounds of traditional Afro-Peruvian music, a genre that has its roots in the communities of black slaves brought to work in the mines along the Peruvian coast. Deeply connected to the spirit of black Peruvian music and culture and dedicated to its ongoing research, Baca co-founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo (Black Continuum Institute) along with her husband, sociologist Ricardo Pereira.

"People would always tell us that there was no public for Afro-Peruvian music; they would not pay attention to it," she says.

World exposure of Afro-Peruvian music is something that has always been of importance to Baca, who says she greatly admired the musical talent of Chabuca Granda, a legendary Afro-Peruvian singer and later mentor to Baca. Granda became a great inspiration for Baca, and she worked hard to achieve recognition in Peru, where opportunities for black women were slim. Finally, in 1995, Baca was introduced to an international audience after a fateful encounter with former Talking Heads front man David Byrne.

After Byrne saw a video of Baca singing "Maria Lando," a touching folk song adapted from a poem written by Cesar Calvo and composed by Granda, he was immediately intrigued and tracked the artist down. He then asked Baca if she would include the song on a compilation album, The Soul of Black Peru, which was produced under his world music label, Luaka Bop. Baca said yes and signed with the label that same year.

"'Maria Lando' opened the doors for me," Baca says.

In her latest album, Seis Poemas,  Baca honors the legendary Chabuca Granda, her mentor.  Baca performs at 8 p.m. tonight at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

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