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Susana Baca


Country of origin:

Peru

Type of music generally:

Afro-Peruvian (a blend of Latin American and African rhythms), world music, traditional Latin American

Status:

Most recent release, Afrodiaspora (2011)

See also:

Luaka Bop's Susana Baca page

Susana Baca on MySpace

An informative Rootsworld review

Comparisons:

Often compared to Cesaria Evora and Celia Cruz

Covers/own material:

Mostly covers and traditional songs. A few co-written songs. She does a lot of the adaptations and arrangements of traditional songs herself. (JoAnn Whetsell)

General comments:

Susana Baca is a singer and dancer dedicated to recovering and preserving the culture of Black Peruvians, from whom she descends. She has an institute in Peru dedicated to this purpose. Her music will appeal to anyone who likes Latin American music at all. She has a rich, clear voice and an emotional delivery. Her songs range from upbeat dance tunes to somber ballads. But they're all very expressive and very enjoyable. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Comments about live performance:

I was so looking forward to this concert, for well over a month, at least, that this evening I began to worry that perhaps I had built it up too much, that it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. Well, I had no reason to fear.
     I arrived early and got a front row seat so no tall person could come sit in front of me and obscure my view. There was a pretty good crowd there, including a group of South American people who came from Pittsburgh and held up a Peruvian flag at different times during the concert.
     The stage was pretty bare. Just black flats as backdrop. There was a band of four—electric guitarist, electric bassist, and 2 percussionists. They all did back-up vocals too. One played drums (congas?) and several other instruments: the cajita (a small box he wore on a string around his neck that he opened and closed the lid and beat a small stick on the side of it to make sound); a clay pot; a round wooden thing that was shallowed out on one side; and that instrument that's made from a horse's jaw. It makes this really neat rattling sound, but it's kind of disturbing to watch someone hit it. (When I saw Sotavento play, they also used this instrument, and one of the dead horse's teeth fell out while the guy was playing it.) The other percussionist played this box that he sat on top of and then beat the front of it with his hands.
     Ms. Baca wore a sleeveless white satin dress and white vest, no shoes. She was so gracious, and I must say, the sexiest performer I have seen grace that stage since Angélique Kidjo. She had this way of moving, of placing each foot on the ground carefully, and she danced wonderfully. And if I thought she was amazing from her albums, I think she's phenomenal from her live performance. I can't describe the energy in words. She had this very gracious stage presence, and some of her movements were quite balletic, but most of the time she was clearly just enjoying singing and dancing. She didn't talk much, a little bit in Spanish. No one in the band knows much English, but they used hand gestures and stuff to get the crowd to clap along, to dance, and to dance more enthusiastically when we were dancing. They got the whole crowd to stand up and dance by the end, and each of the band members got to do an extended solo which were all really cool, but especially the 2 percussionists.
     Most people there didn't know who she was before the concert, but everyone I talked to was very impressed. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Recommended first album:

Susana Baca

Recordings:


Del Fuego y del agua

Release info:

rereleased 1999—Elephant, Groupe Frémaux Colombini SA—EL2004

Availability:

Difficult to find; I was able to order it through HMV.com Distributed in Europe by Frémaux &Associés, 20 rue Robert Giraudineau, 94300 Vincennes, France; tel: +33 1 43 74 90 24; fax: +33 1 43 65 24 22

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of Susana Baca or Latin American music in general, or those who have an interest in African contributions to Latin American music

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals

Guest artists:

Félix Vilchez—contrabass, keyboards, effects, musical direction and arrangements, chorus
Félix Casaverde—acoustic guitar, chorus
Juan Medrana Cotito—cajón, palmas
Félix Vilchez (padre)—banjo
Nicolas Seclen—vocals
Mario Rivas—hand claps
Manuel Vásquez, Eusebio Sirio—cajón on "Golpe de Tierra"
Lili Romero—violin
Carlos Espinoza—saxophone
Eusebio Balleumbrosio—barefooted zapateado on concrete floor
Hugo Bravo—percussion, congas
Ramon Stagnaro—electric guitar
Patricia Saravia, Evelin Ortiz, Rosa Vargas, Ariela Waltzer, Julio César Zabala, Juan José Salomón, Leonidas Gonzales—chorus
"Republicana" band from the National Police of Peru—special participation in chorus Natalia Arteta, Antonio Olivera, Isa and Maya Watanabe, Oriana Suárez, Natalia Rivas, Luciana Salomón, Hairo Dale—children's chorus

Produced by:

Susana Baca, Ricardo Pereira Suarez; Jacques Hubert—Tonga, executive producers

Comments:

When you're introduced to an artist through her later work, it's always interesting to go back and listen to their earlier works and hear the progression. I first heard Susana Baca's self-titled album (her third release), then found Vestida de la vida, then Eco de sombras came out, and now, finally, I've been able to track down Del Fuego y del agua. An earlier version of "Zamba landó" than the one on her self-titled album appears here. I like both versions. This album was obviously a labor of love, part of her work with the Instituto Negroperuviano she and her husband founded. The cd booklet includes a brief article on Susana, a 10-page article, "Black Contribution to the Formation of Peruvian Popular Music," and notes on each song (all this in French and English). Susana's voice is gorgeous here, as on her later albums—sensual, rich, emotional. It's more of a collaborative effort than a showcase for Susana. The choruses are wonderful and used extensively, and this gives a sense of the communal aspect of the music. It also makes Susana's solo voice that much more striking when you hear it. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Vestida De Vida: Canto Negro de las Americas

Release info:

1997—Kardum—46430-040749

Availability:

Fair. Better from online music stores.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for anyone who likes traditional Latin American music.

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals

Guest artists:

Urbano Kojac—tambores bata
Hugo Bravo—chequere, coros, tumbas, congas, percussion, timbales
David Pinto—bass, bajo
Ramon Stagnaro—guitars, acoustic guitar
Juan Medrano—percussion, tumba, cajon, coros
Felix Casaverde—guitars
Felix Vilchez—contrabass, claviers, piano
Juan Alvitez—flute, saxophones, coros
Tito Chicoma—trumpets
Manongo Mujica—batterie
Roberto Arguedas—guitar
Tono Gonzales—cajita, quijada, congas, tumbas, percussion

Comments:

Canto Negro de las americas means Black songs of the Americas. This album is a compilation of songs from different black cultural traditions in North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. So there's a lot of stylistic diversity. And it's woven together beautifully. Susana Baca is a masterful song interpreter. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Susana Baca

Release info:

1997—Warner Bros. Records—9 46627-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals, arrangements
David Pinto—bass, orchestration, arrangements
Juan Medrano Cotito—cajon, quijada, cajita, guapeo, arrangements
Hugo Bravo—congas, bongos, clay pot

Guest artists:

Felix Casaverde—guitar, backing vocals
Rafael Munoz—guitar, backing vocals
Steve Husler—violin
Ramon Rodriquez—zampona
Manongo Mujica—drums
Gaby Aviles, Julio Cesar Zavala—backing vocals

Produced by:

David Byrne & Yale Evelev

Comments:

This album is just so gorgeous, I'm not sure how to describe it. There's lots of wonderful energy and rhythm. And Ms. Baca's voice is sooo seductive. The cover booklet is also beautifully done, with lyrics in Spanish and English. (JoAnn Whetsell)

eco de sombras

Release info:

2000—Luaka Bop Records—72438-48912-2-0

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals
David Pinto—bass, backing vocals, arrangements
Rafael Munoz—acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Hugo Bravo—congas, effects, quijada, checo, timpani, mesa, botijas, yembe, backing vocals
Juan Medrano Cotito—cajon, mesa, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Greg Cohen—contrabass
Cyro Baptista—berimbao, campanas, small percussion, percussion
Mark Ribot—electric guitar
Greg Leisz—pedal steel
David Byrne—electric guitar, charango
John Medeski—piano, organ
Rob Burger—accordion, organ

Produced by:

Craig Street (David Byrne and Yale Evelev executive producers)

Comments:

Echo of Shadows is the English title of this album, and David Byrne's quote on the back cover is really fitting. He says, "It is said that passion intensifies with restraint; then the beautifully cool vocals of Susana Baca over her band's deep Afro-Peruvian grooves is as emotional as it gets." This is subtle passion, laid-back soulfullness. Every bit as good as her last album, and possibly even better. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Espíritu Vivo

Release info:

2002—Luaka Bop Records—72438-11946-2-1

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals, song adaptations

Guest artists:

Sergio Valdeos—acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Mark Ribot—electric and acoustic guitar, loops
John Medeski—acoustic piano, organ, melodica
David Pinto—bass, backing vocals, arrangements
Hugo Bravo—percussion, backing vocals
Juan Medrano Cotito—cajón, backing vocals

Produced by:

Craig Street (David Byrne and Yale Evelev executive producers)

Comments:

A decidedly low-key, live album. Susana's voice sounds as good as ever. The music is mostly slow and sensual, but the energy level does come up for such danceable songs as "Caracumbe," "13 de mayo," and "Se me van los pies," which also appears on her self-titled album. There are traditional songs, and several covers, most notably the last two songs: "Los Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Song)" sung in French, and, probably of most interest to ectophiles, Björk's "Anchor Song," sung in Spanish.
     For the record, I bought the album as a fan of Susana's, not for the Björk cover, though I was intrigued by the sticker on the album that sad she was covering "Anchor song". I've been a fan of Susana's since her self-titled album in 1997, and that's still my favorite, though I now have all of her other albums (not including Lamento Negro, which I read was not an official or authorized release of hers).
     I can't describe "Anchor Song" as a cover, because I'm not familiar with the original. Debut is the one Björk album I sold back. I listened to a 30 second clip of it online, but that only had horns, no vocals. There are no horns in Susana's version.
     I think it's quite lovely and haunting. She writes in the liner notes about liking that minimal way of making music and feeling she could make it her own. And I definitely hear that in the song. It's pretty spare, there's a give and take between Susana's vocals and the instrumentals (I'm not sure what instruments I'm hearing: accordion? Cello? Or maybe keyboard?). There's a beauty in the simplicity of the sonic textures, the repeated sequence of falling notes at the beginning, which changes to rising notes after the vocals begin, has a subtly sensual quality. Like hips swaying in a long, loose skirt. It doesn't sound particularly Spanish or Latin, or particularly any other culture. The other instruments (guitar, etc) add some Latin hints.
     They seem to be marketing this album on the Björk cover and that it was recorded in New York City in the days/weeks following September 11th. I think neither of those things is essential to the album, but if they get people to buy it and introduce them to a wonderful singer with a wonderful new album, that's more than fine. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Travesías

Release info:

2006—Luaka Bop—90063

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals

Guest artists:

Kevin Breit—guitar, mandolin
Marc Ribot—guitar
Gilberto Gil—vocals

Produced by:

Craig Street

Comments:

The best album she's made in years, rivaling 1999's self-titled album. Susana's voice is as beautiful as ever and as usual she's assembled a band of talented musicians. What makes this album distinctive are the musical arrangements. Susana's voice occasionally goes backstage to be just one of many instruments, part of the tapestry. There's also a more laidback feel, and the songs are more diverse, coming from nations other than Susana's native Peru, including Brazil, Chile, Haiti, Italy, Spain, France, and Ireland (a Damien Rice cover). (JoAnn Whetsell)

Seis Poemas

Release info:

2009—Luaka Bop—6 80899 5017-2-9

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca—vocals, arrangements

Guest artists:

Sergio Valdeos—guitar, arrangements
Juan Madrano Cotito—cajon
David Pinto—contrabass
Hugo Bravo—percussion
Andres Lares "Chimango"—violin
Nestor Benitez—flute
Manongo Mujica—percussion (5)

Produced by:

Greg Landau & Ricardo Pereira

Comments:

Has all the right ingredients in terms of vocals and instrumentals, yet it doesn't hold my attention the way her previous releases do. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Afrodiaspora

Release info:

2011—Luaka Bop—6 80899 00772 6

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susana Baca

Guest artists:

Ernesto Hermoza—acoustic guitar and charango
Oscar Huaranga—contrabass
Hugo Bravo—cajón, cajita, tumbadoras and balafon
Carlos Mosquera—background vocals; lead vocal (11)
Alejandro Ramirez, Pedro Gonzalez, Linda Gonzalez, Dandara—background vocals
Michael Shrieve—drums (3, 5)
René "Residente" Pérez (Calle 13)—vocal (4)
Jhon Santos—bongó and maracas (6)
Wagner Profeta (Ilê Aiyê)—zabumba and triangle (7)
Sergio Valdeos—guitar (7)
Billy Branch—harmonica (7, 10)
Celso Duarte—harp (9)
Martha Gonzales—vocals and zapateo (9)
Quetzal Flores—jarana primera (9)
Russell Rodriguez—jarana segunda and requinto jarocho (9)
Wayne Wallace—trombone (10)
Bryan Dyer—vocals and stomping (10)
David Pinto—bass (10)

Produced by:

Ricardo Pereira

Comments:

Vibrant, joyful, danceable, this album celebrates the music of people of African descent throughout Latin America and thus has a range of styles (even a foray into jazz and hip hop, though I'd have preferred she not go there). It's a more collaborative effort, Susana as part of a community rather than a soloist. For me, it's right up there with Susana Baca. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

Susana Baca is featured in Heidi Carolyn Feldman's book Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific (2006, Wesleyan University Press).

She contributed vocals to Los Super Seven's album Canto (2001). She can also be heard throughout Make Me a Channel of Your Peace—The Nobel Peace Prize 100 Years (2002). Her recordings can be found on numerous compilations, including:

  • "Maria Lando" on The Rough Guide to the Music of the Andes (1996)
  • "Maria Lando" on Divine Divas: A World of Women's Voices (1997)
  • "Maria Lando" on Putumayo's Music From the Coffee Lands (1997)
  • "Cerca del cielo" and "Copla de la muerte" on the Men With Guns soundtrack (1998)
  • "Molino Molero" on Voce: Music From Women of the World (1999)
  • "Doña Soledad" on Celebration! the Official Album of New Year's Eve in Times Square (1999)
  • "Maria Lando" on The Soul of Black Peru (2000)
  • "Zamba malató" on Putumayo's Latinas: Women of Latin America (2000)
  • "Cardo o ceniza" and "Las Muchachas" on Gifted—Women of the World (2000)
  • "Los Marineros" on Tumi All-Stars Cabaret AliBar (2001)
  • "Negra presentuosa" on Afro-Peru (2002)
  • "Caras lindas" on Putumayo's Women of Latin America (2004)
  • a live version of "Molino Molero" on Central Park SummerStage—Live from the Heart of the City, Vol. 1 (2005)
  • "Afro Blue (Koop Remix)" on Luaka Bok Remix (2005)
  • "Negra presuntuosa" on All Children in School (2005)
  • "Valentin" on Luaka Bop's Twenty First Century Twenty First Year collection (2009)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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