Over the course of three decades and nearly three-dozen albums, Tania Libertad has taken a rich core of Afro-Peruvian musical traditions into rewarding new contexts to great acclaim around the world. Following up a 2003 appearance at UCLA’s Royce Hall that had the Los Angeles Times’ Agustin Gurza raving about her “gloriously gifted voice and . . . soaring spirit,” the diminutive chanteuse further expands the impressive range of her distinctive journey when she returns to UCLA Live’s Royce Hall on Oct. 25. Joining her will be Portuguese singer Lura, who has brought an urban edge to the sensuous music popularized by Cape Verdean singer Césaria Évora (who also appears at Royce Hall on Oct. 11).
Tania Libertad de Souza Zúñiga began that journey in the small northern Peru town of Zana, the daughter of a Portuguese father and Peruvian-Spanish mother. The strong subculture of descendants of African slaves in her home region known as La Costa Negra (the Black Coast) made an impression that she carried with her when she moved to Lima as a teenager in the 1970s, a time when Afro-Peruvian arts were being revived as part of a national movement to cultivate indigenous music and dance forms. What had for generations been shunned and buried was now held up as a source of national pride, and Libertad provided for it a wider canvas that took in salsa, nueva cancion protests, Brazilian bossa nova and the bolero ballads that have been her mainstay, among other styles. She even made an album of opera arias under a title that translated as And Why Not?
With her 2002 album Costa Negra, Tania Libertad extended the Afro-Peruvian musical connection by teaming with Césaria Évora, the “barefoot diva” of Cape Verde, the former Portuguese islands colony off the west coast of Africa. And with 2004’s Negro Color (“Color Black”), her first album fully devoted to Afro-Peruvian material, she took a largely acoustic approach that echoed some of her earlier work but experimented with rhythm and melody in innovative ways, such as applying the Peruvian lando dance rhythm (a distinctive 12/8 beat) to boleros.
“Afro-Peruvian music is more sensual than the African-derived music of other countries,” she declared after making Negro Color. “Rhythms like lando create a very special air – a unique quality – that doesn’t exist in the black styles of Colombia, Central America, Puerto Rico or Cuba.”
Her own influence has been huge throughout South and Central America, though, musically and culturally. She’s been named an Honorary UNESCO Peace Ambassador, as well as been awarded the title of Comendadora by the Peruvian government and