Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Afro-Peruvian Revival: Susana Baca and "Maria Lando"



No matter how many strides we make as a world civilization, we seem to keep coming around to the same mistakes and lessons. Take slavery. The United States abolished slavery in 1865 only after the economy of a good portion of the country had become dependent on it and after a devastating civil war. England abolished slavery in 1833. Many countries in South America were well on their way to ending slavery before the United States, and most slaves in the New World were completely emancipated by the 1870s.

Yet here, in the 21st century, there are still reports of slavery. Nigerian terrorists kidnap hundreds of schoolgirls and threaten to sell them into slavery. The FBI announces that they have freed over 3600 children in the sex slave trade over the past few years. Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, is considered to be a state that survives on slave labor since officials confiscate the passports of guest workers and often don't pay them for months at a time. Thailand was demoted to the lowest rung on the US Human Rights report, and the Guardian reported that the Thai prawn fishing industry is dependent on slaves working Thai fishing boats.

All this in a world that supposedly put slavery behind it a century and a half ago.  All this in a world that is supposedly enlightened.  Modernization, reactionism.  Capitalism begets many good things, and yet begets greed which leads to the worst of human behaviors in the pursuit of wealth and power.

Today's selection, Maria Lando by Susana Baca, is a reminder of the past and hopefully a future we can avoid.  Maria Lando is about a servant girl, which is often a softer name for a slave.  The song opens with a beautiful evocative image of a dawn:

The dawn breaks like a statue
Like a winged statue spreading across the city
And the noon rings, a bell made of water
A golden singing bell that keeps us from feeling alone

The song goes on to tell us that Maria gets no sleep, and for her there is no dawn, no noon, no moon, just broken sleep, a suffering gait and "only work, only work, only work," performed for another.

Susana Baca is a Peruvian singer who is widely credited with reviving the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition.  She grew up in a small coastal fishing village and recounts on her website how black families came together with music.  She heard Cuban music and the music of Celia Cruz, and as she states on her website, "....The culture, music, and our whole selves are all about the mixture of Spanish Indian and African cultures."  Baca has won two Latin Grammys, and in 2011 she was named Minister of Culture, only the second Afro-Peruvian to sit on the Peruvian cabinet.  She also founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo, which collects, preserves and encourages the creation of Afro-Peruvian culture, music, and dance.  She is also one of my wife's favorite world artists.  Her music often utilizes traditional instruments, including the jawbone of a burro, gourd, wooden box, and clay pot, and her singing has been described as "spiritual", even if she is not singing about anything religious.  This video of Maria Lando shows Baca live in a studio with her backing band.