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Susana Baca: Palabras Urgentes review – a sumptuous celebration

·1-min read

Andean pipes aside, Peru has several musical guises; noisy, loping cumbia, twanging Amazonian chicha, and the earthier tones of Afro-Peruvian music, rooted in the slavery of the coast’s sugar fields. First as a musicologist and writer, later as a singer, Susana Baca has led an Afro-Peruvian revival, boosted internationally by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. Now 77, she is a national institution (and a one-time minister of culture). Palabras Urgentes – Urgent Truths – celebrates her 50th anniversary as a singer in winning style.

Baca’s flowing, intimate vocals remain undimmed, and are well framed by the warm production of Michael League (of Snarky Puppy fame). Urgent they may be, but most of these songs have a long history, and much of the record feels like a South American variant of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club. The lilting La Herida Oscura, by Baca’s friend Chabuca Granda, and Milonga De Mis Amores, a 1937 signature tune for Argentine tangoist Pedro Laurenz, are just two of the numbers that conjure up stately ballrooms of the past. Baca gets friskier on Sorongo, a salsa standard by Puerto Rico’s Tite Curet Alonso, and there’s a rousing choral finale for Vestida de Vida, a previous Baca favourite. Sumptuous stuff.

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