Ever since releasing her self-titled debut for Luaka Bop in 1997, Susana Baca has been on a recording frenzy. Afrodiaspora is her tenth album in 14 years, and as the name suggests, it explores the African diaspora, chiefly in Latin America, but also in other less-likely countries.
The key to all of Baca’s work has been the passion she has for the music, as well as her distinctive voice. She has the ability to be sincere without being plaintive, and while her voice may not be the strongest of instruments, it purrs rhythmically, giving each song bounce and vigour that can quite often be lacking from world music.
This is most prominent on the opening track “Detras De La Puerta” and “Baho Kende y Palo Mayimbe”, songs that use cumbia and bolero beats respectively, dancing along with intensity and energy. These are also good examples of the source material for the album. Normally, Baca chooses material from the catalogue of Afro-Peruvian music made famous by musicians such as Chabuca Grande and Nicomedes Santa Cruz. On this album, she has opened herself up to music from other countries where the mix of African rhythms, Spanish instruments, and indigenous culture produced a music similar to the Afro-Peruvian music with which she is commonly associated.
On “Plena y Bomba”, she tackles Afro-Puerto Rican music. Plena and bomba are in fact two different styles of music found in the predominantly African regions of Puerto Rico, and are often referred to simply as one style: plena y bomba. The song even features a cameo from the hugely-popular hip-hop act Calle 13, a cameo that surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place. On “Takiti Taki”, Baca uses guatire drumming from Venezuela. “Que Lindo tu Vestido” is a Mexican waltz in homage to Amparo Ochoa.
One of the most surprising choices arrives late on in the album with a cover of “Hey Pocky Way”, a song originally made famous by the seminal New Orleans funk group, the Meters. In truth, this is the only song that sounds out of place, and the use of harmonica and a horn section takes the material far too close to the New Orleans tradition of which it belongs.
With the exception of “Hey Pocky Way”, this is a thoroughly enjoyable album that displays admirably the African roots in much of the music that comes from Latin America. For the most part, Baca does this simply through the use of voice, guitar, and percussion, creating danceable, intricate compositions that both highlight her strength as a performer and the quality of the source material involved. It’s material that Baca will no doubt come to again. Her passion is really with Afro-Peruvian music, but seeing as very little of the songs from the Afro-Peruvian tradition were actually recorded and therefore readily available for interpretation, she will need to mine material from outside Peru to continue releasing records at this rate.