Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Question about Susana Baca

Afro-Peruvian Music

On September 22, 2010, I went to see Susana Baca perform live for the third time in my life. The first time was at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA back in the late 90s. I was on a natural high for six months. It was like listening to Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith in Spanish with a combination of African, Indigenous, and Spanish rhythms and melodies for accompaniment.

The second time was very recent; the spring of 2010, she performed at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland, CA. This time, her rhythm sections along with the guitar and choral accompaniment were much more upbeat as she displayed her smooth dancing moves on stage. Although, I would have liked to have seen and heard more traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments like the quijada del burro (jawbone of a donkey) and the cajón (a wooden box slaves used as a substitute for the drum, which was forbidden by slave holders), I felt her music and that of her band deeply as she combined Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Cuban, Jazz, and modern music in her pieces.

Baca sings about Afro-Peruvians but there are no Afro-Peruvians in her band.

Finally, I went to see Susana Baca at the Palace of Fine Arts theater in San Francisco. Susana is always moving her body well to the heart felt music. I thought of her as one of the hardest working women in show business. From watching and listening to the talented musicians who were accompanying her, I noticed something disturbing, and I stand to be corrected on this if anyone reading this blog understand the music business.

Does Susana discriminate against Afro-Peruvian musicians or is such discrimination beyond her control?

This is the third time I've seen Susana Baca with a five or six-piece band. It was only when I saw her back in the late 90s did she have an Afro-Peruvian musician in her band. If she is going to be singing about Africans, the diaspora, and black people, she could at least include two or three Afro-Peruvians in her band, if not an all Afro-Peruvian band. There is too much job discrimination against blacks as it is. Why is she perpetuating it? Can she not find talented Afro-Peruvians for hire or is this beyond her control?

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  1. Well i don think that she is avoiding afro-peruvians musicians, they are just musicians and thats it, you dont have to think too deply into that, for example, there is a gropu that have taed afro-peruvian music to the mainstream outside of peru, by mixing it whit electronic beats , but 3 of them are whites and the other one is a tusan (chinese peruvian) , later they joined whit some afro peruvian musicians (whick improved they stuff a lot ) , adn some estadounideses media enterview them about that racial thing, taht if their group have people of differents racial backgrounds for a political or social meaning or protest.

    They told them that that question is like asking an interacial marriage if their union have political meaning , hope you can understand what i mean .

    Saludos .

  2. Bill, I am suspending judgement until I get more information. But, I have to admit the absence of Afro-Peruvian musicians in her band alarms me, too. That being said, I can also respect, as an artist, that she just wants the best people backing her up. If they happen to be of a different phenotype ... so be it. Again though, what is difficult to reconcile is her not finding backup, who look like her, especially given the themes in her music.

  3. Yo creo que es un cuestionamiento valido el que te haces, no obstante no este de acuerdo con las conclusiones.
    Juan Medrano es el afroperuano que tu viste tocando con Susana, han tocado juntos, y siguen tocando, hace muchos años.
    Los musicos se juntan o alcanzan a tocar juntos, cuando pueden sus agendas. Juan ahora forma parte de otra banda tambien, asi que supongo que cuando no toco fue cuando estuvo de gira con su otra banda.

    Musicos peruanos hay miles, afroperuanos hay cientos, que toquen el estilo de musica que hace Susana, pocos, que puedan acompañarla sin que se cruzen con sus agendas, habria que ver.

    Creo que el no tener musicos negros en su banda, no es una muestra de discriminacion de su parte, finalmente ella no tiene que ser la abanderada de la "no discriminacion" mas aun, tampoco es la abanderada de "asi se hace musica negra" ella solo quiere mostrar su arte, y puede, creo, mostrarlo como quiera y con el equipo mejor preparado para ella, aunque no sea tan oscuro

  4. Bill, coming from the same cultural context as you, I do understand your point. However, I would not say that Susana Baca is intentionally discriminating against Afro-Peruanos by her lack of Afro representation in her band. I do find it strange that out of hundreds of Black or Afro-Peruano musicians that she cannot find any to accompany her. I have seen groups from Brazil playing, singing, and dancing to Afro-Brazilian music and they have a large representation of musicians of obvious black African descent. We cannot leave out our Afro-Cuban brothers and sisters who most certainly proudly display their African connections in their music and dance performances. I find it difficult to believe that this would not also be available to Susana if she chose that route. I think our Latin brothers and sisters who might claim African ancestry, or not, just have a different cultural reality of how to deal with the effects of colonialism than we do. In any case, Susana Baca's musicianship, show womanship, dancing ability and soulful singing is superb and appears to be well loved by an international community and this may be the most important dialogue that we overlook. I wish her continued success and good health. Perhaps some day there will be another artist from this proud country that will come forth and bring people who represent their musical talents in full bloom in unashamedly African roots. Ricardo


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