By Juan Carlos Soto. Arequipa.
That the world was and will be crap/ I already know/ in 1506 and in 2000 too/ that there have always been jets, Machiavelli and swindlers, happy (…)
Ninety years ago, the Argentine Enrique Santos Discépolo Cambalache wrote, lyrics for a tango in the key of social criticism. Susana Baca includes it in urgent words, his latest album seems to be a precise diagnosis of today’s Peru: a country decomposed by corruption. “Anyone is a man, anyone is a thief / Mixed with Fujimori / Van Don Bosco and La Pen, Trump and Napoleon, Alan García and San Martín”. The artist gives a contemporary varnish to the piece with this addition.
“To our relief we have brought Swap to the Peru. Really, you can choose your corrupt and point it out”, tells us the disciple of Chabuca Granda and who these days participates in the Hay Festival of Arequipa.
—Sometimes it is said that the corrupt is only the rich, but Cambalache democratizes it, the poor are also involved.
-The corruption reaches all corners. There are people who respond corruptly, being in an insignificant position, in a municipality. We are always in distrust and in danger of these officials becoming corrupt, because there is also something permissive.
The artist arrives on time for the interview. I remind her that on November 17 she could win the fourth Latin Grammy of her career. Urgent Words is nominated for best folk music album. Compete with heavyweights: Eva Ayllón, Paulina Aguirre, Pedro Aznar, Natalia Lafourcade, Sandra Mihanovich, X Alfonso and Eme Alfonso. Baca won her first Grammy in 2002 with Lamento Negro. She tells me that her career was not easy. She dodged various obstacles and door shots to the face.
“I remember going to Independent Records and I left my record for a man to listen to. He didn’t hear it. And later when David Byrne came -leader of Talking Heads- and Independent Records belonged to Warner Bros., he (director) lied. He said they hadn’t left him anything. Even though we had delivered it to him.
“She filed it away.”
“He left it there.” I also count that in my memories because it was always: no, no, no, no, no, a chain of nos. it tires you I went to try my luck outside, I came and went, I never stayed.
The appearance of David Byrne was providential. In the nineties, the leader of Talking Heads discovered Susana’s music. In New York, Byrne took Spanish classes. His teacher made him listen to the music of Susana Baca. He loved it. He contacted her, traveled to Lima and stayed two weeks in her house. Byrne included it in an anthology called Black Soul of Peru.
—Do you feel that the acknowledgments of your musical career are a bit late?
-I would have liked to be recognized earlier, to be younger, stronger, but one also learns that the time comes when they recognize you and that is that you have done a job for that. You have conquered the public. That is hard work.
—You spoke in your memoirs about a kind of discrimination.
—There was a time when Peru was looking abroad. People said that his origin was French, Italian, anything, but less Peruvian.
Was being Peruvian embarrassing?
—Of course, they don’t appreciate Peru and its values. One goes to the interior of the country and still sees these institutions that are supportive communities, that help each other. People know that in their community they have everything. To know that is to know what you are worth as a citizen, as a person, not to feel that the door is closed in your face because you have such a skin color or because you have a way of speaking.
—We cannot cover the sun with a finger, there is discrimination, but certain characters try to make a profit. Do you feel that this happens with the current president?
—He must have felt discrimination, because he comes from the mountains, from Cajamarca. In Lima, I imagine that the doors must have been closed to him. That creates resentment. And I don’t know if you remember the Minister of Culture, (Ciro Gálvez), who went to places to recognize artists in the most distant towns of Peru. But he had an attitude like revenge. He said: “Ah, they have mistreated us, they have ignored us, they have closed doors in our faces. So, now you’re going to see, because now we have the power. We are in the Palace. That is also negative.”
– It’s revenge.
-Of course. Revenge leads nowhere.
—How does a person not to be revengeful? In Peru, it seems that there are always pending accounts.
—The person (says) has discriminated against me and does the same with “another newcomer”. How do we make sure that people do not despise others? So that the people who have had to live through negative experiences such as racism turn that into something positive? I could not have stayed, when as a child, as a young man and as an adult, I have felt discriminated against. My mother told me: Haven’t they chosen you to be a ballet dancer in your salon? They’re wrong. You are the best dancer. That affirmation helped me a lot, because it hurts you. I’ve cried every time I’ve been discriminated against, but you can’t stay there.
—In these memoirs, “I come to offer my heart”, you recount your step on politics. Do you regret having entered it?
—I tell about my childhood, my roots, my environment, how I grew up and how I affirmed myself in life. And it ends when I meet David Byrne. But the memories don’t end there, there has to be a volume two (laughs).
There will be a second volume where he will tell his time in politics. He held the Ministry of Culture in the government of Ollanta Humala for six months. He does not regret having taken on that challenge, although he is disappointed in Humala. “He had a wonderful speech and it ended in nothing.
—And what does it mean to be inside that monster that is politics?
“Wow, it’s terrible. I was very damaged. My prestige as a singer was very good, but then you convince yourself and say yourself, suddenly I can contribute something, especially for the artists. An amendment to the Artist’s Law had to be made. Until the last day that I left the ministry, we fought for it. Very important people were on that commission, artists like Mr. Luna Victoria, Elvira de la Puente, Nora de Izcue, Coco Chiarella, Imagine, that group of people meeting and working with the legal department of the ministry. Kiri Escobar too, on the part of the musicians. That desire to want to do things well. I, the truth, took charge to serve, not to serve myself, as happens with many politicians.
—It is a utopia to have hopes in these times. How does it stay so vital? What is the secret?
—I think it’s the music, the work, because I’m not just singing or doing dance. I am also working in the area where I live, in Cañete. There we have a cultural center, a school. There are young people from that school who are already accompanying me, already professionals, on stage. After the Hay Festival, we go to Mexico to sing.
“Anything you’d like to add?”
—I dream of a country that does not discriminate against people. The mixture that we are is a treasure.
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