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Susana Baca

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Susana Baca

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Two years ago David Byrne's Luaka Bop label released Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru, a compilation album that shone a light on the overlooked music of the descendants of African slaves on South America's West Coast. Because Peru's black communities are smaller and less self-contained than those in, say, Brazil or Cuba, the African beats are more integrated with Spanish guitar and Andean melodies. The result is a music of rippling rhythms and lilting lyricism, and no one sings it more convincingly than Susana Baca, who led off the anthology. Now she has released her first U.S. album, Susana Baca. The 10 songs, all sung in Spanish with English translations in the CD booklet, are a mix of traditional Afro-Peruvian numbers and new compositions; there's even a Cesar Vallejo poem set to music. The newer songs reflect the literary ambitions and nuanced harmonies of Latin America's "nueva cancion" movement. On Simon Diaz's "Luna Llena," Andean panpipes set up Baca's dreamy musing, "I saw a dark heron struggling in a river; that's how your heart falls in love with mine." On Tite Curet Alonso's "Caras Lindas," the "cajon," the rhythm box, creates the push-and-pull beat that propels Baca's assertion that "My black people are a parade of molasses in bloom." No matter what the song, she sings with a seductive, smoky tone that camouflages her highly disciplined control of phrasing. --Geoffrey Himes

Susana Baca

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