lunes, 7 de diciembre de 2009

Yma Sumac: Her Best Albums from the '50s (1950-1957)

The only singer known to possess close to a staggering 5 octave voice, Yma Sumac was said to have been a descendant of Inca kings, an Incan princess that was one of the Golden Virgins. Her offbeat stylings became a phenomenon of early-'50s pop music. While her album covers took advantage of her strange costumes and voluptuous figure, rumors abounded that she was, in actuality, a housewife named Amy Camus. It mattered little because there has been no one like her before or since in the annals of popular music. According to the Sumac legend, she was the sixth child of an Indian mother and an Indian/Spanish father, who raised her as a Quechuan. She began performing in local festivals before her family moved to Lima, Peru. Once she was in Lima, she became a member of the Compania Peruana de Arte, which was a collective of nearly 50 Indian singers, musicians, and dancers. Sumac married Moises Vivanco, the leader of the Compania, in 1942. Four years later, Vivanco, Sumac, and her cousin Colita Rivero formed the Inca Taqui Trio and moved to New York. By the end of the decade, they were performing in nightclubs throughout New York and playing radio and television programs, most notably Arthur Godfrey's TV show. The Trio also became a fixture on the Borscht Belt circuit and the Catskills. Sumac was signed as a solo artist to Capitol Records in 1950, releasing her first album, the 10" Voice of the Xtabay, the same year. Voice of the Xtabay was released without much publicity, but it slowly became a hit and Capitol began pushing Sumac with a massive marketing campaign. The album was one of Sumac's least hokey or pop-oriented. That's not to say it's without its mass-appeal elements, especially in the arrangements, conducted by Les Baxter. The reissue I included here combines the eight tracks with the eight others contained on another of her early albums, Inca Taqui (1953). Legend of the Sun Virgin, released a year before, in 1952, displayed her characteristic mixture of Andean folk music, flamenco guitars and dramatic invocations to obscure pre-Columbian idols. Capitol got on top of two '50s fads at once by issuing Mambo! (1954), an album of Sumac tackling, well ... mambo. Yma held nothing back, and the result was one of her more enjoyable LPs, with respectably swinging mambo grooves crafted by Billy May. 'Five Bottles Mambo' is one of her most astonishing vocal workouts, dropping into guttural growls that are downright bestial, and making one wonder how exactly they got away with that in the conservative milieu of the '50s. Her next album was Legend of the Jivaro, in 1957. According to the liner notes, Sumac and Vivanco, went into the headhunting territory of the Jivaros, tape recorder in hand, to accumulate source material for this album. Whether you believe that or not, what they came up with once it had been run through the studio was one of her chintzier products. If it's folk music, it's been heavily modified for North American audiences, with period '50s pop production, mainstream Latin pop influences, and occasional spurts of quasi-rock'n'roll guitar. By the end of the '50s, Sumac's audience had begun to decline though, and she was no longer as hip as she was before. She retired in the early '60s, performing just sporadically the next three decades.

Yma Sumac, The Secret of the Incas, performing 'Tumpa':

Singing live 'Amor Indio':

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