If, as she insists, Susana Baca's goal is to rescue Afro-Peruvian music from the brink of extinction and bring the exuberant rhythms of her youth and culture to a global audience, she's doing a damn fine job of it. As world-music pioneers go, Baca now rivals Brazil's Virginia Rodrigues, Cape Verde's Cesaria Evora and the exotic, Belgian-Egyptian Natacha Atlas in terms of laudatory ink and airplay. In comparison to her far-flung contemporaries, Baca seems, however, to handle her musical mission with heightened joy.
Espiritu Vivo, her much-anticipated Luaka Bop follow-up to 2000's Eco de Sombras, does an even better job of celebrating the barefoot diva's relentless joie de vivre. Unlike Eco, which was brought to life inside various rooms of Baca's oceanfront Chorrillos home, Espiritu was recorded in a Manhattan studio before a tiny guest audience. Remarkably, though, none of the previous album's homey coziness is lost.
Her gentle, swaying "La Noche y el Dia" and spare, haunting "Si Me Quitaran Totalmente Todo" serve as a soothing prelude to the primal energy of "Caracunde," the tidal lilt of "13 de Mayo" and a "Toro Mata" that overflows with spiritual passion. Pushing beyond Peru's borders, Baca goes to town with a rollicking treatment of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue" then adds a heartbreakingly tender "Les Feuilles Mortes"-better known to English speakers as "Autumn Leaves." In the spirit of global sisterhood, she even serves up an eerily fog-bound, Spanish-language version of Icelandic swan Bjork's "Anchor Song."
Espiritu Vivo is pure pleasure.