Susana Baca, from barefoot singer to Peru’s first Black cabinet minister

Susana Baca. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Monocityjim

Multiple Grammy Award Winner Susana Baca is considered one of the most celebrated political elites in Peru. Ipsos Apoyo poll in 2011 named her as one of the most popular politicians with an approval rating of 62 percent after her appointment as Culture Minister in the Ollanta Humala administration. She is the first public official in Peru of African descent. 

She is however known best for her contributions and giving life to music created by enslaved Africans who worked on the plantations of Peru, according to Black History Heroes. Many attribute her strong advocacy for human rights and equality to her early shave with discrimination as a little girl. 

She recounted how teachers denied her an opportunity to be part of the school’s dance team because of the color of her skin. When she assumed political office, she did not hide her objective of fighting against discrimination against inhabitants of African descent in Peru. 

Since the mid-1500s, enslaved Africans have been subjected to inhumane treatment on plantations on the coasts of Latin America. The Spanish Crown was the mastermind behind the setting up of sugar plantations in the river valley region of San Luis de Canete. The slave trade persisted in Peru till 1854 before it was abolished. 

At some point in time, the enslaved and their descendants made up at least 40 percent of the population of Peru’s Liman region. The population has however shrunk over the years standing at approximately 10 percent now. This is partly due to rural-urban migration in search of better work opportunities.

Baca since her early teens has tapped into the rich musical roots of the Afro-Peruvian people to highlight the inequalities and discrimination her people face in their daily lives. She is accredited for getting Afro-Peruvian music into mainstream space given the long-standing perception that such music was inferior.

She traveled extensively across the length and breadth of Peru in pursuit of her identity and the fruits are the themes she sings of, according to SFGate.

The Peruvian music legend said she established Instituto Negro Continuo with her husband to preserve the Afro-Peruvian culture from dying. She indicated that until the music of African descent became a household tune to listen to, many perceived it as lower-class music.

According to Black Past, framing of Afro-Peruvian culture in such light is what created the disaffection and near death of the slave music. Known around the world for her barefoot performances, Baca said she grew up in a disadvantaged side of society where her father was a chauffeur and her mother a cook from the upper class in Peru.

Baca said during family gatherings, her mum placed her on the spot to exhibit her musical talent. She recalled her father playing the guitar and loads of music of African descent being sung. She indicated that one person who had a lot of influence on the genre of music she does was Peruvian composer and singer Chabuca Granda in the 1970s.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 18, 2022


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