A quiet, unobtrusive album offering subtle but substantial rewards, Susana Baca’s Seis Poemas presents summery South American pop stripped down to its elements, its instrumental starkness and lyrical introspection peeling most of the familiar tropical sheen off of this pleasant sound. Baca plays Afro-Peruvian music, which for the uninitiated is like bossa nova cut down to its core, leaving her voice—sometimes plaintive, sometimes celebratory—nearly alone against a bare patina of acoustic guitar and cajon. The latter instrument, a hand drum shaped like a tall box, stems from Peru’s history of musical repression of its African population, which resulted in drummers making impromptu instruments out of upturned crates. This sense of loss and economy is clearly present in Baca’s music, especially on Seis Poemas, which acts as a specific elegy expanded to encompass other losses. The memorial is to Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda, who died in 1983 and reminded Baca, “Don’t forget, sing me” on her deathbed. But Granda is not the only one to whom Baca sings. Opening track “El Bosque Armado” remembers slain poet Javier Heraud, adopting a subdued shuffle that almost disappears under the force of Baca’s voice. “Vendadito de Los Montes” has a beautiful crystal guitar line and neat vocal melodies that recall Vashti Bunyan with a unique flavor, provided by eclectic instruments like the quijada, made from the weathered jawbone of a donkey, its music the eerie rattle of the animal’s teeth. Lyrics on “Los Lagartos” are borrowed from Federico Garcia Lorca, another writer killed before his time, furthering the theme of an album that honors the contributions of so many silenced voices.
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: