Susana Baca: 23 April 2010 - Chicago

Timothy G. Merello

In gesture, body and voice, Susana Baca translated the grace and beauty of her words into the universal language of life, love and poetry.

Susana Baca

Susana Baca

City: Chicago
Venue: Old Town School of Folk Music
Date: 2010-04-23

Susana Baca, more than just a singer, is a poet, a historian, a spelunker and explorer of Afro-Peruvian folklore and music. Her career in song has been clearly marked by a deep interest in singing and performing songs by her musical mentor Chabuca Granda as well as so many other musical genres in the Afro-Peruvian diaspora. Taking the stage of Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, Baca, her guitarist Ernesto Hermoza, bassist Oscar Huarango and longtime percussionist Hugo Brava prepared to entertain, educate and entrance a sold out crowd with a musical melange of rhythms, melodies, beats, and dance.

Within the first few strains of a plucky galloping rhythm, a sinuous guitar line and Baca's melting mellifluous voice, the feeling in the room reached a giddy and rapturous fever. Young, old, Latino, hippie, boho, hipster, all rocked and grooved to the Afro-Peruvian tunes. Baca, dressed in a diaphanous, blue veiled dress danced with elegant ease, embracing the music with her entire body. Her delicate hand movements and slow, slinky slither mirrored the soaring spirit of her song. In gesture, body and voice she was able to translate the grace and beauty of her words into the universal language of life, love and poetry.

One of the most captivating aspects of Baca's performance was her interplay with her band. While Ernesto Hermoza plucked and picked his nylon stringed acoustic guitar he smiled widely at Baca as she slowly glided towards him singing with verve and exuberance. Hermoza's riffs and chords danced in perfect step with Susana's vocal phrasings. Feeling the funky and furious beat, Baca would turn to percussionist Hugo Brava as he palmed, pounded and patted all manner of drums, congas, blocks, jawbones, boxes and cymbals. His speed and skill on the skins at times made him seem like the Buddy Rich of Afro-Peruvain soul.

The bits and pieces of between song stories that Baca unveiled in a soft and shy voice displayed her joy and happiness to be a singer of songs; a poet of the people. She expressed a heartfelt joy to be bringing the folklore of all Peruvians: black, brown, white, Indian, man, woman, worker, rebel to the hearts and minds of an attentive audience. Whether it be the beauty of the tango or the rousing folk fiesta stomps of the native peoples Baca and band performed in harmony, riffing off one another, nodding, smiling and urging each other to profound heights of musical mastery.

One of the greatest touchstones with the audience was “Molino Molero” with its rising and falling beat, its disquieting quiver and boisterous repetitive vocal harmony chants of the title. The thunder and clatter of bongos and congas echoed by Baca's vocal crescendo. Likewise, Baca's version of Chabuca Granda's “Un Cuento Silencioso” hushed the audience with an inspired poetry of song. Baca's unique voice, rare and refined, stamped this gem of a song with the pure mark of a jazz diva. In Baca dwells the alma and sangre of a grand Peruvian songstress.

Unfortunately and inevitably this night of magic and mystery, this noche of sol y sombre would come to an end but not before multiple and extended standing ovations brought Baca back for her most notable song “Maria Lando”, a Chabuca Granda classic first previewed by Baca on David Byrne's masterful collection The Soul of Black Peru. “Lando” begins slow and mournfully with a wistful guitar strum, brooding bassline and heavy and weary drumbeat. Baca eventually sings soft and sweet, her voice infused with the dark passion of her character's life defined by “solo trabajo” (only work).

The rhythms and choruses rose with verve and vigor, enchanting the crowd to clap and sing along. As the final strains of this tune’s folk melody faded into the rich fabric of Baca's hushed hum, one couldn't help but be moved by the lush, lyrical lessons of this dramatic and poetic musical interlude. More than any other venue in Chicago, the Old Town School of Folk Music constantly makes good on a shared promise to bring the music, history and folklore of so many cultures to a captive and demanding audience.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.