Saturday, November 26, 2011

Remembering the Queen of Exotica

Three years ago this month, Yma Sumac passed away at the age of 86.  Most Americans are not familiar with her work. In the 1950s, she came to this country from Peru and recorded many songs in the genre now known as "exotica" (the kind of music one listens to while drinking libations garnished with umbrellas and tropical fruits). She was called an "Inca Princess" (though I suspect that was as fictional as her stage name).

What made her so remarkable was her incredibly flexible voice (which could reportedly span five octaves). At the low end of her range, she sounded like a Tuvan throat singer.  At the high end, she left Ella Fitzgerald's glass-breaking Memorex commercial in the dust.

This is my favorite Yma Sumac song:

I didn't discover her work until the 1990s, and it took me a while to really appreciate it. She has continued to influence modern pop musicians. The Black Eyed Peas have sampled her. In 1981-82, Adam Ant recorded two albums that had obvious Yma Sumac influences.  Go back and listen to Prince Charming, Stand And Deliver, and Friend or Foe after you've listened to Goomba Boomba and this classic Sumac track:

She was still working in the 1980s, and she still sounded amazing.  Here is a 1987 appearance on David Letterman's show:

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of the tropics on this chilly and rainy Wisconsin day. If you've traveled for Thanksgiving, have a safe trip home.

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