Peru's new minister of culture. (AFP/Getty Images)

Peru's populist President Ollanta Humala broke a significant racial barrier by naming world-renowned singer Susana Baca as his minister of culture. This is the first time that an Afro-Peruvian or a singer has been named to the presidential cabinet in Peru and is a significant step for a country that has long discriminated against its black population. Baca has devoted her career to preserving the rich African-influenced folk culture of coastal Peru.

Ms. Baca was 51 and working in relative obscurity when David Byrne discovered her in the mid-1990s and put her stirring rendition of "Maria Lando" on his compilation "Soul of Black Peru."


Since then she has recorded six albums on Mr. Byrne's label, Luaka Bop, and her reputation as an ambassador of Afro-Peruvian music to the rest of the world has grown. She won a Latin Grammy in 2002 for best folk album when a European label reissued "Lamento Negro," the forgotten record she had made at the Egrem studio in Cuba in 1986.

Critics have lauded the plangent quality of her voice and the way she plays with folk forms, combining rhythms of different genres and tinkering with traditional lyrics, sometimes even setting poetry to folk tunes.

This is an important step in a region that has often pretended that its black citizens don't exist. As The Root's editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., demonstrated in his recent PBS series Black in Latin America, countries like Peru and Mexico are often in denial about the black contribution to their history and culture.


Read more at the New York Times.

See an excerpt from the Black in Latin America series that appeared on The Root here.

Here is a link to her famous rendition of "Maria Lando."