Susana Baca: Diaspora Diva

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Susana Baca is known for bringing her Afro-Peruvian music tendencies to otherwise skeptical North Americans. In her upcoming performance at the Palace of Fine Arts in San FranciscoSusana Baca will present music from an upcoming, as-of-yet untitled release that captures the mix of music she’s been studying and delving into: music of the Afro-Latino diaspora in the Americas.

Having come far from her interpretation of “Maria Lando” on David Byrne label Luaka Bop’s The Soul of Black Peru, Susana Baca has once again gone deep into the soul of black music in the Americas–music as diverse as Brazilian forro, Puerto Rican bomba y plena, and Colombian cumbia. Relentless in her quest to preserve and affirm our tercera raíz–the African base in Latin America often overlooked in our mestisaje–Susana Baca and her partner spent many years documenting and archiving Afro-Peruvian music and culture for new generations of Peruvians.

As she recorded in renowned Bay Area producer Greg Landau’s studio, we got a chance to talk to her about this mixture and some of the musicians (including Calle 13) and rhythms that will be featured on her new release.


Tell us about the new project.

This new project has to do with the diaspora and the celebration of the diaspora, perhaps because life costs us a lot we must celebrate it and the new recordings will move the hearts of many Latinos with music from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico…. it has been a long time coming. I’ve been delving into the soul of plena. I hear a bomba or a plena and my feet run away from me to dance, but of course you try to capture the sentiment of a “people” and play it and sing it with respect and joy.

Who have you brought on to collaborate with you?

I have wonderful guest musicians such as John Santos who knows so much about his music (Puerto Rican) – Sergio Valdeos from Peru. I am particularly excited that Carlos Santana’s longtime percussionist Michael Shrieve will be joining me. He approached me while on tour in Seattle and joined me on stage and he evoked the same passion as I remember first hearing him play “Black Magic Woman.” Also, Rene Perez aka Residente from Calle 13 will improvise on the song dedicated to Puerto Rico.




Given all this you’re still the bandleader with the artistic vision and these arrangements are under your supervision?

Yes, I start work by saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice to interpret these rhythms and how I feel them?” For instance, we have a cumbia in Peru but how do I feel the cumbia from Colombia? I remember I was given a disc of cumbia from the Pacific and have always listened to the PertronToto la Moposina, and more recently a wonderful cumbia interpreted by Lucia Pulido.

What does this album mean to you?

I’m so excited about this new production. [It] might leave me dead since I run between Lima. A new disc is an enormous undertaking that people don’t realize–I may need to do a second album because I just discovered Afro-Honduran music and heard some drums I had never seen before. I am living the diaspora deeply and I think the musicians also feel the deep emotion of this record.


Susana Baca will perform Wednesday, September 22nd, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco presented by the CIIS Public Programs. For now download her track “Silencio Para Ser Cantado (La Camisa)” off her album Mama.