Pioneer Works, located in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, has an unglamorous, yet massive exterior. On Friday Night, March 17th, however, the inside of this former warehouse was packed and humming with fanfare and excitement. Crowds of people were energized by the percussive sounds of Bulla En El Barrio, a Colombian group that provided the perfect opening act for Peruvian Folk singer, Susana Baca. The concert was part of World Music Institute’s series, ORIGINS, which “preserves important cultural legacies.”
Baca, draped in a beautiful, flowing, periwinkle shawl, took to the stage, opening with “Yugo”. She then performed “Negra Presuntuosa”, a song that speaks to the pain and hope of love. The text of Baca’s next selecton was from poet Manuel Scorza: “Viento del Olvido”, or “Wind of Oblivion.” The heart-wrenching song references a mysterious goddess who “sowed the stars of the night with her hand,” but has now drifted to an unknown place. “Without You,” the speaker says, “My heart dies every afternoon.”
Drawing inspiration from another well-known Spanish poet, Baca enchanted audiences with “Pequeno Vals” or “Little Viennese Waltz.”
Many of the songs from Baca’s repertoire speak about love and the pain that often accompanies it. Her patter was spoken entirely in Spanish, but it was evident that she was gracious and thrilled to be performing in New York City. Her voice has a rare, ethereal quality and her presence is reminiscent of Anna Madrigal from the popular Tales of the City Series. One gets that feeling that, no matter how bad life gets, Baca’s sage aura will offer protection and comfort.
The Grammy Award winner didn’t bring a shred of disappointment to her Brooklyn audience and gave them exactly what they wanted. Before leaving the stage, she performed her most well-known song, “Maria Lando.” The tune brought Baca international fame in 1995 when musician David Byrne featured her on an album of Afro-Peruvian classics. It was released under the Luaka Bop label, owned by Byrne.
The real significance of Baca’s concert was that it could easily have been enjoyed by non-Spanish speaking individuals as well as die-hard fans. While one may not have understood the specific words, the emotions were palpable and genuine.
This is the wonder of the World Music Institute which is “committed to presenting the finest in traditional and contemporary music and dance from around the world with the goal of inspiring wonder for world cultures through music and dance.” They will continue to fulfill the mission with their next show, Tinariwen, a Saharan blues band, at the Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday April 15th and Sunday April 16th.
For more information about World Music Institute, visit their web page.