- An Interview with Susana Baca*
How did you become a professional singer? What was the moment in which you made the distinction between the joy of wanting to sing and saying, "Yes, from this moment, I am a professional singer"?
From seeing that musicians in our country die starving or end up at the Bravo Chico hospital, the hospital for tuberculosis patients, my mother was terrorized by the affinity I had for music from the time I was young. So she said, "She shall have another profession and she can dedicate herself to music afterwards if she wants." That helped me get into the Enrique Guzman and Valle University, La Cantuta, and become a teacher. I was working as a teacher in the Cerro del Agustino, with children who leave in an outlying, very poor and high-crime neighborhood. I worked there. Those were my first steps as a teacher. And then I traveled across Peru to work in Tarma, in the mountainous regions of Peru. There was a moment when I felt that my calling for music was much stronger than my calling to teach children.
Where were you born?
Here, in Chorrillos.
How did it affect you to go from the city all the way to the mountains?
It was incredibly important because to understand my country, to understand Peru, to understand the discrimination that exists in Peru was something very important for my career. I understood that Peru is a country that completely excludes indigenous, Afro-Peruvian and Amazonian peoples. All the political power is concentrated in Lima. It's to Lima that all the benefits come, and Lima lives with its back turned away. To realize that, that that's what my country is, was incredibly important for me, for my struggle, for my path as a singer, to say what I say in my songs and everything.
About how many Afro-Peruvians are in this country? [End Page 298]
That's a terrible question because it's terrible for me to know the exact number. The thing is that we have influenced a great deal, we have contributed a great deal to this country.
In fact, there's a record and a book that precede everything that we're doing now. They're called "Fire and Water." My husband, Ricardo Pereira, and I conduct an investigation of how much Afro-Peruvians have contributed to Peruvian culture. And we realize that the contribution is very large because it's possible that the color disappears permanently. The color is diluted, but the culture is quite strong. The music that people hear, the music that's being created for the future, it's Afro-Peruvian music. Daily food has Afro-Peruvian origins. There's a great presence. I can't tell you the percentage because I don't have that answer. But at present, young people have worked on that and there are people who are reclaiming their Afro-Peruvian origins.
When I think of your music, I see a variety of traditional and new forms that aren't necessarily tied to the tradition or to folk. Could you talk a bit about what you would most like to do as a singer, or what is it that as an artist you would like to have be of most impact for us as listeners? What is it that you want to have happen to your listeners?
In all sincerity that people react in the face of Afro-Peruvian rhythms, that they react and feel this way of expressing ourselves that we Afro-Peruvians have. It's real. We mix folklore with modern music. I feel that that's what lets people feel the connection between the old, the folk and the Afro-Peruvian music and that they also feel that this music has a right to modernity. To be able to gather those things is to be able to have people feel our past and our present.
When listening to your music, I always feel as if I were hearing myself. When I hear your music, I...