Folkloric Afro-Peruvian songs, passed down through generations of people who struggled, fought and loved are Susana Baca's main source of inspiration. And it is the people of Peru that keep her grounded. While she fully intends to stick to her roots in Peru, she has been on quite a journey in the past year: recording her latest album 'Travesias' (Passages) in upstate New York in the spring, and traveling to the Congo before coming to the States to begin a fellowship to study the music of the African Diaspora.
Her journey to success has been a long one. She fondly remembers the day in 1995 when she got a phone call in Peru saying that David Byrne wanted to meet with her. She could not believe it at first, and admits that, while she knew of him, she did not know much about him. "He wasn't in my world at the time," she says.
She decided that it would be better to cook a meal for him at her house rather than go out to a fancy restaurant. She recalls, somewhat embarrassed, that she had to take her large dog outside to keep him from excitedly jumping on Byrne when he arrived for dinner. It was the first meeting in what has proved to be a fruitful artistic partnering since she signed to his recording label, Luaka Bop. 'Travesias' is the fourth album she has made under its imprint.
Her success and performances around the world have admittedly changed her perspective on life. "It's embarrassing to be applauded in restaurants." But she takes it all in stride. "The party is great," she says. "But then later you find yourself in a corner and this is the music for those times."
These days she can stroll through the University of Chicago campus anonymously, reading about Louis Armstrong, learning English and visiting Chicago's legendary jazz clubs. She doesn't feel the need to try to fit into any mainstream Latino explosion; she is perfectly content doing what she is doing—it's an authenticity that is hard to find in the music world.
"My only regret is having this knowledge, traveling around the world and not having the vitality that I need," she says in complete modesty. But after listening to her latest album and seeing her perform, you'll have to politely disagree.
Ne Quelque Part
"She sings with an extraordinarily smooth tone, touched with an almost subliminal rasp, and phrases with such grace and precision you immediately know you're listening to a master." — Salon
"Everything she has released has been touched by a special sense of grace. Travesias is no exception." — The Sunday Times