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The Peruvian Songbird

Retrospective RTR 4156





  Early Yma Sumac
1. Amor Indio (Indian Love)
2. A Ti Solita Te Quiero (I Love Only You)
Voice of the Xtabay
3. Taita Inty (Virgin Of The Sun God)
4. Xtabay (Lure Of The Unknown Love)
5. Monos (Monkeys)
6. Wayra (Dance Of The Winds)
7. Tumpa! (Earthquake!)
8. Choladas (Dance Of The Moon Festival)
Legend of the Sun Virgin
9. Karibe Taki
10. Witallia! (Fire In The Andes!)
11. Zaņa
12. Kuyaway (Inca Love Song)
13. Suray Surita
14. Mamallay!
Yma Sumac singles
15. Babalu
16. Wimo Weh (Mbube)
Inca Taqui
17. Cumbe-Maita (Calls Of The Andes)
18. Incacho (Royal Anthem)
19. Chuncho (The Forest Creatures)
20. Llulla Mak ta (Andean Don Juan)
21. Malaya! (My Destiny)
22. Ripui (Farewell)
23. Bo Mambo
24. Taki Rari
25. Gopher Mambo
26. Chicken Talk
27. Jungla


Yma Sumac was always a mystery. She came from Peru and moved to the USA, where she became popular for her exotic recordings. The most remarkable thing about her was her voice, which ranged over four (or more) octaves - from a deep growl to an ethereal birdlike sound. This seemed so incredible that many people believed the story that she was actually an American from Brooklyn named Amy Cumas, who had reversed her name to sound glamorous. This was always denied by Yma, who convincingly described her family and upbringing in Peru.

Whatever the truth, she burst upon the popular music scene in the 1950s with such albums as Voice of the Xtabay which included extraordinary songs like Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God), where her voice soars up and down its range, seemingly almost out of this world. She was accompanied on this album by Capitol Records' conductor/arranger Les Baxter. Sumac apparently hated Baxter because he wanted to claim credit for her compositions. Yet they made other recordings together, and it was her first Capitol album which brought her to the attention of the USA - and the rest of the world.

This compilation supplies a good sample of Yma's achievements. It includes Virgin of the Sun God, which I can still remember as the first time I heard Sumac's unique voice.  The early recording Amor Indio (Indian Love) authentically conveys the atmosphere of western South America - such as we can also hear from such groups as the Chilean Inti-Illimani - and the track ends with one of those incredible high notes which made Yma such a vocal phenomenon. Monos (Monkeys) is a catchy song for which Les Baxter provides a Latin-American rhythm.

The growl that Yma creates at the beginning of Tumpa! (Earthquake!) is positively unsettling. Chuncho (The Forest Creatures) is a wonderful example of her amazing vocal range and her ability to imitate birds and other creatures, while engendering a mystical (sometimes unnerving) atmosphere redolent of the wilds of Peru. The last five tracks come from the 1954 album Mambo!, with accompaniment by Billy May's orchestra. Sumac sounds slightly out of place: a Peruvian vocalist singing the Cuban mambo.

If you want to know more about Yma Sumac, go to the full and fascinating article by Nicholas E. Limansky on this website . Limansky makes the good point that Sumac's voice can challenge the best of any classical singers. She had "one of the great voices of the century". Sadly, she is virtually neglected nowadays, and her death last November passed without the notice it deserved. Yma Sumac's exceptional voice, unusual repertoire and exotic image made many listeners regard her as an oddity rather than as a serious vocalist. This album might help to correct the balance.


Tony Augarde

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