The Voice of Freedom / The Queen of Salsa / The Soul of Black Peru
These three lovely ladies have used their majestic voices, dignity, wisdom, and strength of spirit to impart the complexities of the human spirit, the monumental power of love and the pain of loss to inspire audiences all around the globe.
According to reports, Maria Concepción Balboa “Concha” Buika, a Spanish singer born and raised on the island of Mallorca, is the daughter of political refugees from the African nation of Equatorial Guinea. Her family were the only black inhabitants in one of the poor neighborhoods of Palma de Mallorca, Spain. As such, she was a local curiosity and Buika remembers how neighbors used to approach requesting to touch her hair (an afro style taken from photos of her precocious musical idols: Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson).
She discovered a second home among the community of Roma families, finding in the individualistic spirit of flamenco a path to self-acceptance. Flamenco was an open door, remembers Buika: “It‘s not just about music, it’s a way of life. It is about not running away from yourself. Some sing about what they want to happen or what they want to be, but in the couplet and in the ‘song’ we face who we are, with all our fears and our defects. In the United States there is also a great tradition like this: they call it the blues.” Buika’s voice comes to us laden with centuries of feeling: pain, joy, loss and hope. Everyone should hear her music.
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, known as Celia Cruz, was a Cuban singer and one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Cruz rose to fame in Cuba during the 1950s as a singer of guarachas, earning the nickname “La Guarachera de Cuba”. In the following decades, she became known internationally as the “Queen of Salsa” or “The Queen of Latin Music” due to her contributions to Latin music in the United States.She began her career in her native Cuba, earning recognition as a vocalist of the popular musical group Sonora Matancera, a musical association that lasted fifteen years (1950-1965). Cruz mastered a wide variety of Afro-Cuban music styles including guaracha, rumba, afro, son and bolero, recording numerous singles in these styles for Seeco Records. In the early 1960s, after the Cuban Revolution caused the nationalization of the music industry, Cruz left her native country, becoming one of the symbols and spokespersons of the Cuban community in exile. Cruz continued her career, first in Mexico, and then in the United States, the country that she took as her definitive residence. In the 1960s, she collaborated with Tito Puente, recording her signature tune “Bemba Colorá.” In the 1970s, she signed for Fania Records and became strongly associated with the salsa genre, releasing hits such as “Quimbara.” She often appeared live with Fania All-Stars and collaborated with Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colón. During the last years of her career, Cruz continued to release successful songs such as “La Vida es un Carnaval” and “La Negra Tiene Tumbao.”
Her musical legacy is made up of a total of 37 studio albums, as well as numerous live albums and collaborations. Throughout her career, she was awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, including two Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. In addition to her prolific career in music, Cruz also made several appearances as an actress in movies and telenovelas. Her catchphrase ¡Azúcar! (Sugar!) has become one of the most recognizable symbols of salsa music.
With a splendid voice and equally impressive interpretive gifts, Susana Baca is a primary exponent of the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition. Baca came to world attention in 1995, when her rendition of “Maria Lando,” a heartbreaking ballad of Third World worker oppression, was included on David Byrne’s The Soul of Black Peru compilation. Since the Byrne compilation, she has toured the United States several times and released several albums, including an eponymously titled solo album on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label; a disc, Del Fuego y del Agua, for Tonga Productions; 2002’s Espíritu Vivo, and 2006’s Travesías. Baca is particularly interested in reinterpreting old Afro-Peruvian melodies. At her best, Baca conveys an unforgettable, haunting melancholy, the lament of a people separated from their homeland by a continent and an ocean.
Baca was born in the black coastal barrio of Chorrillos, outside Lima, where descendants of slaves have lived since the days of the Spanish Empire. Her family was interested in music; her father played the guitar, while her mother was a dancer, and she grew up listening to Cuban musicians like Pérez Prado and Beny Moré. Baca’s singing first came to public attention when she was a student. She formed an experimental group combining poetry and song, and started performing after receiving grants from Peru’s Institute of Modern Art and the National Institute of Peruvian Culture. She attracted the attention of the composer and singer Chabuca Granda, who became her mentor. Granda encouraged Baca to record, but a 1983 record deal fell apart upon Granda’s death. Baca then turned her attention to researching the Afro-Peruvian tradition. With her husband she founded the Instituto Negrocontinuo (Black Continuum) in Lima, which is dedicated to preserving Afro-Peruvian culture.