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.
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.
Africans in Peru
In 1527, Africans arrived in the modern nation of Peru as a result of the European slave trade to the west coast of Latin America. (But see also Olmec, kingdom from c. 1200 BC to 400 BC). Spain financed the establishment of sugar cane plantations using slave labor in the river valley region of San Luis de Canete. It was more than 300 years later, in 1854, that Peru finally abolished slavery in the region.
At one point in Lima, Peru’s history, people of African descent were counted as the majority of this capital’s citizens — at approximately 40 percent. Today, approximately 10 percent of Peru’s 29 million people are of African descent, just under 3 million known. Many Afro-Peruvians have again migrated to cities such as Lima seeking work opportunities, reports The World Summit of Afro-Descendants. In August 2011, The World Summit of Afro-Descendants conference was held at the National University of La Ceiba in Honoduras. It was sponsored in part by the United Nations and designed to examine the African diaspora — including the estimated 150 to 200 million Latin Americans of African descent.
According to the World Summit’s report, Africans in Peru have a high rate of joblessness and work in low-income sectors. The work of women like Susana Baca helps improves conditions for people in this region. Baca is among the 2 percent of Afro-Peruvians who have earned a post-secondary education. Her work through the Peruvian government may have a favorable impact on laws and policies impacting African and indigenous people in Peru.