With a splendid voice and equally impressive interpretive gifts, Susana Baca is a primary exponent of the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition. Baca came to world attention in 1995, when her rendition of "Maria Lando," a heartbreaking ballad of Third World worker oppression, was included on David Byrne's The Soul of Black Peru compilation. Since the Byrne compilation, she has toured the United States several times and released several albums, including an eponymously titled solo album on Byrne's Luaka Bop label; a disc, Del Fuego y del Agua, for Tonga Productions; 2002's Espíritu Vivo, and 2006's Travesías. Baca is particularly interested in reinterpreting old Afro-Peruvian melodies. At her best, Baca conveys an unforgettable, haunting melancholy, the lament of a people separated from their homeland by a continent and an ocean.
Baca was born in the black coastal barrio of Chorrillos, outside Lima, where descendants of slaves have lived since the days of the Spanish Empire. Her family was interested in music; her father played the guitar, while her mother was a dancer, and she grew up listening to Cuban musicians like Pérez Prado and Beny Moré. Baca's singing first came to public attention when she was a student. She formed an experimental group combining poetry and song, and started performing after receiving grants from Peru's Institute of Modern Art and the National Institute of Peruvian Culture. She attracted the attention of the composer and singer Chabuca Granda, who became her mentor. Granda encouraged Baca to record, but a 1983 record deal fell apart upon Granda's death. Baca then turned her attention to researching the Afro-Peruvian tradition. With her husband she founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo (Black Continuum) in Lima, which is dedicated to preserving Afro-Peruvian culture. She released a new EP, Seis Poemas, in 2009, following it with the full-length Afrodiaspora in 2011. ~ Spencer Harrington