[Marxism] Susana Baca named Minister of Culture in Peru
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Sat Aug 20 07:57:54 MDT 2011
NY Times August 19, 2011
Music, Activism and the Peruvian Cabinet
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Success was a long time coming for Susana Baca, the Afro-Peruvian folk
singer who was recently named minister of culture for the new populist
government of President Ollanta Humala of Peru. She is the first black
member of the Peruvian cabinet and the first musician to hold the position.
Ms. Baca was 51 and working in relative obscurity when David Byrne
discovered her in the mid-1990s and put her stirring rendition of “Maria
Lando” on his compilation “Soul of Black Peru.”
Since then she has recorded six albums on Mr. Byrne’s label, Luaka Bop,
and her reputation as an ambassador of Afro-Peruvian music to the rest
of the world has grown. She won a Latin Grammy in 2002 for best folk
album when a European label reissued “Lamento Negro,” the forgotten
record she had made at the Egrem studio in Cuba in 1986.
Critics have lauded the plangent quality of her voice and the way she
plays with folk forms, combining rhythms of different genres and
tinkering with traditional lyrics, sometimes even setting poetry to folk
Her new album, “Afrodiaspora” (Luaka Bop), departs from her ballad-heavy
sets rooted mostly in Peruvian rhythms. She takes an up-tempo tour of
African-influenced music across the Americas, singing not only Peruvian
festejos and landós, but also a Colombian cumbia, a Cuban son, a Puerto
Rican bomba, a Brazilian coco, a funk tune about New Orleans, a Mexican
Now 67, Ms. Baca has never been a member of the political or social
elite of Peru, where racial and class divisions run deep, though for
decades she was an outspoken advocate for Peruvian blacks. Rebuffed as a
musician, she founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo in Lima to preserve
black folklore and music.
The request from President Humala, a former general turned left-leaning
populist, to lead the culture ministry came out of the blue as she was
preparing to go on a tour of the United States and Europe to promote
“Afrodiaspora.” She will appear on Sunday evening at City Winery in the
South Village. She spoke on the telephone recently about the new album
and her appointment. Following are edited excerpts.
Q. Tell us how you ended up being named minister of culture. Did you
know before the election that it was a possibility?
A. It was a big shock. The ministers of culture have always been
archaeologists and anthropologists, sociologists, but never an artist. I
thought about my mother, and how I would have liked that she were alive
to know that her daughter, from a humble background, who has struggled a
lot in life, came to have such an important post in this country.
Q. You have never moved in the circles of governmental power in your
country. When you were a girl, was it even possible for a black woman to
dream of becoming a minister?
A. Not just when I was a girl. It was only a short time ago that we
managed to become respected, to have status. Among common people there
is this mentality, and this we have seen in the social networks during
the second round of the election of President Humala. There were
terrible, racist things said on the networks. Racism against Indians.
Strong racism. It was regrettable and sad that in this country there
still are people who despise blacks and Indians and natives of the Amazon.
Q. Tell us about this new album. It seems like a tour of the music of
African people in the Americas. You draw on traditions from Cuba, Peru,
Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, even New Orleans. Why did you choose these
A. I wanted to show the Africanness of America. Our Africanness. To
celebrate this Africanness. That is what has happened on this album. In
choosing the songs, it is marvelous to see that when we interpret music
of Puerto Rico, and a bomba dance seems to be so much ours, because the
rhythm, well, it’s not the same, but it’s similar. What excites me so
much, for example, is how one can manage to make a funk song end in a
Peruvian festejo, and you don’t lose authenticity.
Q. Is there a particular track on this album that is special for you?
A. The one from New Orleans. It was important to do this work because I
lived in New Orleans and got to know the musicians there, but I couldn’t
get anything started because of Katrina. When I do this song, I remember
all that I lived through, and I think it is a homage to the music of
that beautiful place that is New Orleans.
Q. You were forced to leave by Katrina. How long were you there?
A. I went up for about a month. I arrived for the celebration of Louis
Armstrong’s birthday, and there was a lot of music, a lot of food. It
seemed to me I was in paradise. All of a sudden the hurricane came, and
everything was transformed.
Q. On this album there are two covers of songs by the Mexican singer
Amparo Ochoa and the Cuban songstress Celia Cruz. How did they influence
you and your music?
A. Celia Cruz I have known since I opened my eyes. My mother adored her.
I saw her on television singing with La Sonora Matancera, in the era
when she sang with them. And she was singing Yoruba songs. It fascinated me.
Q. And Amparo Ochoa?
A. I met her in Cuba in the 1970s. She arrived and went directly from
the plane to the stage and started to sing and sing and sing. Later we
passed several days together there, her singing a Peruvian festejo and
me learning “La Maldición de Malinche.” We shared a lot.
Q. How will you be able to balance your duties as a minister and your
A. It’s going to be very difficult. Although I have a first-rate team
working here, I think that the job’s going to eat into my work as a
musician. But I’m not about to give up music.
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