Lady Liberty

"Ever since I've been old enough to reason," says singer Tania Libertad, speaking by phone from her home in Mexico, "I've seen that the world has its rough spots." Anointed an Artist for Peace by UNESCO in 1996, the celebrated vocalist chalks up her commitment to combatting poverty, AIDS, and pollution to just plain good manners. "I'm not meant to confront anyone," she explains. "In the most pleasant way I can, I bring my voice wherever it is needed." This Monday Libertad hauls her mezzo-soprano to our often politically divided city as a featured artist at the Festival Club, a temporary jazz room run by the FIU Miami Film Festival.

A child star in her native Peru, Libertad released more than a dozen albums of Andean music between 1965 and 1980, when she left to pursue a new life in Mexico. "I never imagined that my destiny was to be popular," says the socially conscious songstress, who spent her first six years south of the border playing for the elite and working for government agencies as an entertainer in schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and community centers. "Then, on one of those bohemian nights when the tequila was flowing, I agreed to record a collection called Boleros," she recalls. The 1991 release sold more than 300,000 copies, leading to a series of followups that transformed the anti-commercial artist into a pop star.

During her Miami gig, Libertad plans to present the Afro-Peruvian elements of her repertoire that she first began experimenting with on her 1994 album, Africa in the Americas. "You cannot be timid," Libertad says of her always-innovative approach to the traditional music of the Americas. "Sometimes it helps me to be outside Peru, because I don't have to be as concerned about the criticism of the purists."

She's used to being controversial. Political pressure from local hard-liners, who have a difficult time accepting Libertad's liberal views, delayed her appearance in South Florida until just last year. Before packed houses at Miami Beach's Club Tropigala and El Hábito, Libertad at first shied away from the songs in her collection written by Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes, leaders of the Cuban nueva trova movement that many associate with Fidel Castro's regime. Then audience members insisted on hearing their favorites. "There are songs that have an appeal that goes beyond the ideological tendencies of their authors," Libertad notes. "Some songs are so beautiful it would be a crime not to sing them."