Susana Baca: A brief review of the career of the three-time Grammy winner, who turns 78 today

Susana Esther Baca de la Colina was born in Chorillos, Lima, on May 24, 1944. She is the daughter of Ernesto Baca, who played the guitar, and Carmen de la Colina, whose family, from San Luis de Cañete, have left emblematic Afro-Peruvian musicians such as “Caitro” Soto, Rolando Campos or Pepe Vásquez.

Thus, from a very young age she was exposed to music and dance. At her family gatherings, her mother encouraged her to sing for her friends, and she was also an active participant in the festive activities at the Juana Alarco de Dammert school unit. “In school I was the artist. She sang, danced, did theater, “she told El Comercio.

One of his first disappointments occurred when, at the age of 13, he participated in a singing contest at school, the prize for which was two scholarships to study at the Conservatory. Despite having passed all the phases of the contest, she was not awarded the scholarship, which caused a rebellious attitude that forced her to be transferred to the Divino Maestro school.

Her mother motivated her to study from a very young age, and it was thus that, finishing school, she entered the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University, better known as “La Cantuta”, where she pursued a career in education, from which she graduated in 1968. She worked as a teacher in Tarma and El Agustino, where she learned firsthand about the different realities of Peruvian children.

First steps in music

The life of Susana Baca It would take a turn when, through the linguist Dora Bazán, he met “Chabuca” Granda at the end of the sixties. “She was very amazed that I knew her songs that were not known to her and from there a timeless friendship was born: she invited me to live with her, I enjoyed her books, her library and I was able to listen to a lot of music”, with Étienne Durt.

In those years, she was part of an experimental music group, which set poems performed by Suzanne. Precisely, she made her musical debut at the 1st Sweet Water Song Festival, held in February 1972, which she won in the best national performance category with a selection of poems.

Through “Chabuca” Granda, Susana Baca He met the poet César Calvo, with whom he also worked on a later project that fused poetry and song. “María Landó” was originally written by Calvo and composed by Granda in 1967, but it would not be released until 1984, a year after the death of the Creole singer, when Susana adapted it and made it her own.

Along with her career as a performer and composer, Susana became interested in the Peruvian musical tradition, which she was able to investigate in depth thanks to two scholarships awarded by the Institute of Modern Art of Peru and the other by the National Institute of Culture of Peru.

Fire and water

Susana Baca he did not publish an album until 1987, when he released “Poesía y canto negro”, an album in which, as the title indicates, he brings together verses by different poets from Peru, such as César Vallejo or Alejandro Romualdo, as well as international poets such as Pablo Neruda or Mario Benedetti, and compositions by Afro-Peruvian artists such as Victoria Santa Cruz or Guillermo Gálvez Ronceros.

This album was followed by “Vestida de Vida, Canto Negro de las Américas”, from 1991, and “Fuego y agua”, from 1992, albums with which he transcended the Peruvian borders, and took his research on the tradition to another level. music of Peru and the continent.

“Fire and water” originated the book “Of fire and water: the contribution of black people to the formation of Peruvian popular music”, published together with Francisco Basili and Ricardo Pereira, with whom he published, twenty years later, “The bitter path of sweet cane. The African in Peru”.

Bolivian sociologist Ricardo Pereira deserves a special mention. He is the husband of Susana Baca since the early eighties and his partner in the different investigations he has carried out throughout Peru. Together they founded the Continuous Black Institute to encourage research into Afro-Peruvian culture, as well as the Memory Cultural and Artistic Center, which operates in the couple’s home in Santa Bárbara, Cañete.


The race of Susana Baca took another turn in 1995, when the British musician David Byrne, through his label Luaka Bop, published “El alma del Perú negro”, a compilation that starts with “María Landó” and includes songs by Lucila Campos, Eva Ayllón, Nicomedes Santa Cruz and many other Afro-Peruvian musicians.

Since then, Susana’s voice resounded throughout the world. Hand in hand with Luaka Bop, she released her self-titled album from 1997, as well as “Eco de sombras”, from 2000; “Living Spirit”, 2002; “Travesías”, from 2005; “Six poems”, from 2009; and “Afrodiaspora”, from 2011.

However, the definitive recognition of his career came in 2002, with the album “Lamento Negro”, which he published with the Tumi Music label, and which earned him the latin grammy in the Best Folk Album category. This album, recorded in Cuba, was also nominated for the grammys in the Best World Music Album category.

Since then, Susana Baca took two Latin Grammy more: in 2011, for the song “Latinoamérica”, together with the group Calle 13, he won in the Recording of the Year category, and in 2020, with his album “A Capella: Recorded at home during the quarantine”, he won again the award for Best Folk Album, which made its validity clear.

Ministry of politics and awards

On July 28, 2011, Susana Baca assumed the position of Minister of Culture, as part of the first cabinet of Ollanta Humala Tasso, being the second person to hold that position. In the brief six months that she held the position, she began to work on the General Law of Culture and the Law of the Artist.

“That the descendants of the Incas, today marginalized, can once again own themselves… that my Amazonian brothers can once again play their music according to their beautifully colored birds. May the forgiveness that I learned from my Afro-Peruvian brothers follow their path to dance with rhythm and joy,” he said upon taking office.

Already in 1987, Susana Baca had been chosen Goodwill Cultural Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In 2002, after winning the Grammy, she received the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services from the Peruvian government and in 2004 she received the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Republic.

She has also been recognized with an honorary doctorate from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University, and an honorary master’s degree from the Berklee University School of Music.

As if that were not enough, in 2021 she published “Urgent Words”, with which she celebrated fifty years of artistic career, fifty years of giving the best of herself for Afro-Peruvian and Peruvian culture in general. Happy birthday teacher!


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Susana Baca: A brief review of the career of the three-time Grammy winner, who turns 78 today