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The 'El Tiny' Questionnaire: Susana Baca

"I think that modernity is good for us." Susana Baca tells NPR.
Javier Falcon
"I think that modernity is good for us." Susana Baca tells NPR.

To celebrate Alt.Latino's "El Tiny" takeover of NPR's Tiny Desk series, we asked a few of the artists contributing performances to answer our "El Tiny" questionnaire. These answers have been edited for length and clarity and translated into English.

Artist Name: Susana Baca

Country of Origin: Peru

Genre: Afro-Peruvian music

Any musician, living or dead, who would you invite over for a cafecito? The extraordinary pianist Oscar Peterson. He played with such intensity yet lived through immensely terrible moments of discrimination and segregation. ... There's a saying here in Latin America, "caminar tranquilo y por la sombra," (Walk quietly and in the shadows) so that they almost don't see you. That's very hard. [I would ask him] what he felt when he played the piano in that way.

One album that always reminds you of home: Once, David Byrne made me listen to his album, The Forest, and it really transported me to the Peruvian jungle. There, where the trees are gigantic, and you almost don't see the light. You see a little bit, a few rays of light through [the branches]. And so that solitude, and at the same time the company of nature — it made me think of this when I heard David Byrne's The Forest.

If I weren't a musician, I'd be a(n) ____. A cook. I would have loved to have a place where people would come to talk, and I would prepare something for them. And well, I can't be in the kitchen all the time, but to have helpers who also love to cook. It would be like making music. We are all involved in the music, and when it's over, [we'd] breathe [a sigh of relief] because it went well for us and we all listened to one another and we were happy. And it's the same in the kitchen, [when we] prepare something delicious to eat and share it with people.

I would have them try a dish that is native to Peru and strongly influenced by Black people of Peru: carapulcra, which is a kind of diced potato that is crystallized. As a child ... [my mother] would buy it the day before, toast it a little bit, and put it to soak. The next day it was a wonderful stew, and she added a secret [ingredient] that I can't tell you.

Dream place to tour: My ideal place to tour is Latin America. I've just come from a tour of South America — various cities in Argentina, Uruguay and [Chile]. I was in Santiago, [Chile] and the room was filled with young people. There were about 10 people who were my age. And I thought it was beautiful that these young people were [at this concert], and how these young people care for the root of Latin America.

What are you listening to right now? Since I've just toured the south, I'm listening to a Chilean singer, Elizabeth Morris. I'm listening to Ana Prada, and I'm listening to Malena Muyala. She is a young woman, gorgeous, and the director of the biggest theater in Latin America — the Teatro Solís in Montevideo, [Uruguay]. I am also listening to Micaela Vita and lots of women.

Is there a part of your creative process — a piece of gear, a tool, a technique — that you've adopted recently? How has it impacted your art? I'm a little behind because now everyone is on Spotify, but I'm still part of the YouTube generation. So I say "ah, I want to listen to Malena," so I grab my phone and put her name in [YouTube], and there it is. I can listen to her. I love that modernity. Also, since I have recorded a lot and I've sung many things, sometimes ... I don't remember [the words to a song], so I go on YouTube, I look for myself and there I am. That's incredible. You don't need to go look for the [record]. I think that modernity is good for us.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fi O'Reilly
Fi O'Reilly is a production assistant for Alt.Latino.