Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac endures as Peru's single greatest contribution to the world of recorded music. Descended directly from the last of the Incan kings, she was born on September 10, 1924 (the Coral LP's liners have it as 1927) in the Andean village of Ichocan. According to several Xavier Cugat sources, it was he who initially discovered on her. Arranger-composer Carlos Moises Vivanco brought her to North America and guided most of her early career. But her first 10" LP on Capitol, recorded with Les Baxter, became the classic, exotic vocal album. Yma Sumac's career and legend was made.

Possessed of an amazing, full four octaves (and very comfortable in parts of a few others), Sumac ululated and grunted in the strangest combination of operatic style and abstraction. Her unique style was not quite vocalese, but words rarely cluttered her expressions. (Some records are more strictly lyrical.) Themes ran from the sensationalistic or traditional Peruvian (sun gods, virgin sacrifices, headhunters), to broader strokes of Andean and South American life. The musical territory she staked out was entirely hers to claim; as with the guitar of Jimi Hendrix, very few could follow.

Inevitably with adulation came parody. There was absolutely no truth to the joke that "Yma Sumac" was just an anagram for an ordinary "Amy Camus" from Brooklyn. But other singers found more ammunition in her outlandish style. Two leaders of the proto-beatnik, jive "scat" school of jazz vocals, Slim Gaillard and Cecil Young, both had hits with songs making fun of Yma Sumac's ululations. And Sylvia Copeland did a very fair imitation in her interpretation of a more straightforward pop song.

Sumac's last LP of any note, Miracles, was a reunion of sorts, with Les Baxter leading a funky, four-piece rock band. And it is hip! The previous Fuego del Andes (Fire of the Andes) was her last LP on Capitol and the only other released in stereo. It features some Latin-twist numbers.

Buying: Start with Miracles and at least the 12" versions of all the Capitol LPs.

Yma Sumac 10" LPs

8Voice of the Xtabay; Capitol; 1950 (w/Les Baxter)
6Presenting Yma Sumac; Coral CRL-56058; 1952
7Legend of the Sun Virgin; Capitol L-299; 1952
7Inca Taqui; Capitol L-423; 1953
7Mambo!; Capitol L-564

Yma Sumac 12" LPs

7Voice of the Xtabay/Inca Taqui; Capitol T-684 (reissue-combo)
7Legend of the Sun Virgin; Capitol T-299
5Flahooley OC; Capitol T-11649 (partly Yma Sumac)
7Mambo!; Capitol T-564
8Legend of the Jivaro; Capitol T-770
7Fuego del Andes; Capitol ST-1169
8Miracles; London XPS-608; 1972 (exotic funky rock; w/Les Baxter)

Yma Sumac 78s

Birds/Najalas Lament; Capitol 1819
8Wimoweh/Babalu; Capitol 2079 (w/Moises Vivanco; not on LP)

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