Susana Baca Eco de Sombras (Echo of Shadows)

Cesaria Evora was belatedly discovered outside strictly world music circles last year, and Peruvian diva Susana Baca seems poised to turn the trick this year with Eco de Sombras, an album of smouldering, sombre beauty and elegance. Her Afro-Peruvian music resists pinning down as classical or pop - at a recent show in Toronto, the largely Latin American audience seemed divided between old guard Peronista types (the women decked out in gold lame jackets, fingers weighted down with rings and eyes ringed with severe eyeliner) and young, hipster urbanites but both were singing, shouting and doing flamenco claps along with the music. Flamenco ballads are alluded to in her songs, but Baca's music is resonant with a number of Latin ballad styles, from the stately boleros of Cuban son to the melancholy of Portuguese-language styles: bossa nova, fado and the infinitely sad morna songs of Cape Verde that Evora has recently put on the North American radar. Baca's songs are steeped in mournfulness, but it's the resilience that her voice imparts that really makes them stick - if you've ever seen the ending of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, you'll know exactly what I mean. If not, you'll know it when you hear this compelling kind of indomitable sadness. It's a voice that, along with Evora and Virginia Rodrigues, redeems the much-abused term, diva, which has been indiscriminately applied to everyone from overblown romance novel queens like Celine Dion to hip-hop brats like Li'l Kim. Baca knows intuitively how much more power there is in understatement, suggestion and nuance - words that probably don't even register in the vocabularies of the Celines and Mariahs out there. And we can also thank David Byrne for recognising Baca's greatness and assembling all-star New York musicians like Marc Ribot and John Medeski to sit in with Baca's own band for these sessions and adding another gem to his Luaka Bop roster. (Virgin)