Last fall Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca spent a month and a half at the University of Chicago researching the development of African-American music in New Orleans, intending to compare it to Afro-Peruvian traditions. (Her plans to do that research at Tulane University in New Orleans were scuttled by Katrina.) Sadly and strangely, Baca has yet to perform here since releasing her latest album, Travesias (Luaka Bop), a gorgeously restrained outing that features some of her most extensive collaborations with American musicians — including guitarists Marc Ribot and Kevin Breit, as well as the Tosca String Quartet. The album, produced by Craig Street, focuses on ballads, expanding her usual repertoire of endangered Afro-Peruvian traditional material with contemporary songs from Gilberto Gil — who duets with Baca on his “Estrela” — and mopey Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice, plus a gem by Haitian composer and guitarist Frantz Casseus.
But Baca’s absence from local stages is ending. She has been in town recently rehearsing for an upcoming dance piece; last week she presented a series of workshops at the University of Chicago, and tomorrow, Wednesday, October 18, she’ll be giving a free lecture with musical demonstrations on the UIC campus. (Recital Hall, Performing Arts Building, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1040 W. Harrison; call 312-996-2445). Joining her will be Eduardo Vilaro, the founder and artistic director of Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theatre, which will soon perform Mi Corazon Negro, a new piece that includes live music from Baca; it runs on November 10 and 11 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.