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Recording Details
The Sun Virgin

catalog no: 5609
This new CD collection features some of Yma Sumac's best recordings from her earliest 1943 acetate singles to her successful 1954 Mambo! album.

A copy exists in the Archives in case there are specific questions about it. The Tiki logo is not on the actual artwork.

Living Era - Monophonic - 2006 United Kingdom   Compact Disc

Historical notes
Liner Notes
Yma Sumac

Although now often considered enigmatic and mysterious, Imma Sumack was originally billed as a folk singer. It wasn't until a now legendary 1949 performance at the famed Hollywood Bowl that she suddenly burst upon the American music scene and consciousness. Ironically, by that time, she had been in the United States for several years but it was this performance that brought her the most widespread attention.

In 1950 with the release of her first album, Voice of the Xtabay, and thanks to the marketing department at Capitol Records, Imma Sumack became "Yma Sumac", the queen of vocal exotica and the new packaging had been perfected. Gone were the humble, yet authentic peasant outfits, replaced by costly gowns and exotic Peruvian jewelry. Simple, traditional folk arrangements of Andean music were replaced by quasi-operatic compositions of intricate vocal filigree, often enhanced by bizarre impressions of nature's sounds. Simple staging was replaced by colossal stage shows. From her humble origins as a folk singer, she recorded her own brand of music for Capitol Records throughout the 1950s, finally returning to her origins for 1959's Fuego del Ande and even trying her hand at rock on her popular Miracles album of 1971.

It is unfortunate that because of initial, overblown American publicity, which billed her as an Incan Princess and emphasized her vocal extensions, and because of her distinct musical individuality, Yma Sumac was not taken seriously as an "artist". Instead, she was relegated to the ranks of a curiosity. Critics shied away from analyzing her strange voice, technique and odd repertoire. Baffled, they did not try to unravel the mystery of the origin of such singing or of the mind behind it.

Mysteries aside, she was as exotic to the North American culture as she was glamorous with her superb facial structure, almond-shaped eyes and full mouth. Combined with her natural beauty, skin tone, glossy dark hair, superb figure, and natural, proud bearing, the effect was a lasting one. Yma had become a glamorous figure in the entertainment world. Her newly acquired image and eccentric vocalism constituted the new packaging. Costumed, bejeweled, regal, captivating and yet oddly distant in her demeanor, Yma's presentation to audiences of the 1950s was clever and absolutely crucial to her success.

As a musician, Yma Sumac was a study in contrasts. During the 1940s, the incongruity of singing popular Peruvian folk music with a voice that had the finesse, range, and quality of an operatic singer, alienated producers who were hesitant to hire the young singer, fearing her eccentric singing would isolate both popular and classical audiences. By the onset of 1950, however, Yma's artistic development emphasized these contrasts and exploited the capabilities of her imitative talent and audiences were ready for this type of bizarre diversion.

This compact disc collection covers Yma Sumac's music from the 1943 shellac folk disks to 1954's phenomenal Mambo! Album. In it can be found some of her best recordings through the beginning of her career to its height in the mid 1950s when she was performing at her prime.

The Programme

From Voice of the Xtabay, Les Baxter and his Orchestra
Recorded February 1950 at the Melrose Recording Studios

  1. Taita Inty ("Virgin of the Sun God", Moisés Vivanco)
    When Yma sang this piece live, portions of "Wifala" (or "Wifalitay") an ancient, traditional Peruvian chant in praise of the sun that was part of her 1943 recording sessions were always included. This shorter commercial recordings, however, did not include these passages. The rise of her voice in minor thirds to high E flat is also indigenous to Perú, being a traditional musical formula, instrumental in concept.
  2. Xtabay ("Lure of the Unknown Love", Les Baxter, John Rose)
    Despite the fact that this is one of the best pieces on the Voice of the Xtabay album, it was rarely used again in performances. Only one other reference was found of her singing it during an American nightclub appearance in 1955. Individual, exotic and rather sinister in tone, the piece was a perfect framework for her talents and is a vocalese of pure exotica, cleverly and colorfully orchestrated. It is a paean to unrequited love with deadly overtones.
  3. Monos ("Monkeys", Moisés Vivanco)
    This piece is actually a rearrangement of Yma's 1943 "A Ti Solita Te Quiero" that is found elsewhere in this collection, which in turn, is a re-arrangement of the original Afro-Peruvian song "El Congorito" (The Little Boy from the Congo). This version is more complex than the others and includes a section where Yma provides her now expected flights of supersonic staccati. This song also has contributions from Moisés (lower voice) and Hernán Braña (top voice) who sing a short duet.
  4. Wayra ("Dance of the Winds", Moisés Vivanco)
    This slight but interesting piece is really a forerunner to the "Cha-cha-cha" and a preview of the dance form, which would be the rage within five years of this 1950 recording.
  5. Tumpa ("Earthquake", Moisés Vivanco)
    During the 1950s, this was one of Yma's most popular pieces during live performances and was invariably singled out for mention in reviews. Pure program music, it is "...a wordless study in realism, where the voice takes on the character of the things it describes." (Maurice Leonard, Records and Recording) Here it is heavily exotic with wonderful, colorful orchestration.
  6. Choladas ("Dance of the Moon Festival", Moisés Vivanco)
    This is another vocalise piece and one of its main glories lies in Yma's classical, flowing legato which, even when using the "growl", boasts a range exceeding three octaves. However, the growl is executed differently than in the previous track of this collection. Rather than the guttural growling found in the latter song, this growl stems from vibrating only the throat membranes which Yma amplifies by adding mouth resonance. This lends a bright, forward quality. It also allowed her to take the "growl" as high as she wished.

From 1943 78 rpm singles
Recorded by and released on the Odeon label in Argentina

  1. Amor Indio ("Indian Love", Moisés Vivanco)
    This recording is a rare gem of perfected singing within a three-octave range and is also one of the few early recordings to display Yma's lower extremes, hinting at the prodigious range boundaries at her command. By 1951, it was rearranged and titled Kuyaway, which can be heard elsewhere on this collection.
  2. A Ti Solita te Quiero ("I Love Only You", Moisés Vivanco)
    This is another song that would be revamped during the next decade as "Monos" on Voice of the Xtabay. This 1943 version is simpler than the later, with no extraneous coloratura or high staccati flights. The two verses are sung cleanly and with much gusto. In its new, virtuostic format as "Monos" it proved to be a very popular number with nightclub audiences.

From Legend of the Sun Virgin
Recorded September 1951 probably in Capitol Records studios and released in January of 1952

  1. Karibe Taki ("Carribean Song", Moisés Vivanco)
    Actually written especially for Yma Sumac by her flautist and friend Hernán Braña, it is now officially, though improperly, credited to Moisés Vivanco. Hernán's intimate knowledge of Yma's voice - its possibilities and limitations, provided a piece that fit her voice like a glove. The simple vocal line, contrasted by lush, almost tropical orchestration, sets a wonderful atmosphere of the unusual. According to Hernán, its inception in 1951 stems from a visit he had with Yma at her penthouse apartment on upper Broadway in Manhattan. When he arrived, Moisés Vivanco was out and Hernán found Yma in tears and depressed. He was so moved that he wrote this lovely, nostalgic song for her.
  2. Witallia! ("Fire in the Andes", Moisés Vivanco)
    Backed by a group of wailing men and women, they play a minor part. As if tongue-in-cheek, Yma sings a minuscule text in the beginning of the song that includes her name, her nickname for her son Charlie and apparently one for Moisés Vivanco.
  3. Zana (Moisés Vivanco)
    Originally titled "No Quiero Que a Misa Vayas", this song originates from the black heritage of the coastal areas of Perú. With accompanying male chorus, it is an inventive, wonderfully busy performance of operatic coloratura and high staccati. Yma's voice is in superb condition from top to bottom and the music is well arranged.
  4. Kuyaway ("Inca Love Song", Moisés Vivanco)
    This is a remake of the original 1943 "Amor Indio" that is found elsewhere in this collection though with some startling changes. Whereas "Amor Indio" had an accent on simplicity, this version has an accent on complexity. Because of this, the original expression of pure, almost spiritual love has been transformed into a lusty portrayal of physical desire. The arrangement and Yma's singing are pure camp. Along with "Chuncho" which follows later in this collection, "Kuyaway" represents the apex of Yma's recorded exotica.
  5. Suray Surita (Moisés Vivanco)
    Being pure and elegant here, public performances were quite different since it was placed in the set with only Moisés' guitar accompaniment. Even with orchestral accompaniment, though, the structure of the song is kept simple by the use of a tasteful, restrained arrangement. Despite the grisly notes on the original album notes, this is a beautiful composition of great sadness and yearning. The orchestration was obviously carefully prepared so as not to detract from the inherent beauty of the melodic line and Yma's singing. Simple chords of sustained strings and soft winds provide a warm, noble background while an oboe occasionally weaves a plaintive counterpoint, giving this piece of unrequited love an appropriately stark, lonely atmosphere.
  6. Mamallay! (Moisés Vivanco)
    This song opens with chant-like weeping from Yma, while the orchestra meanders through various modulations. Drums are beaten and a solo violin suddenly appears with a descending flourish. It is a campy effect, but made arresting by Yma's emulation of the sound of weeping through the use of vibrato alterations and quarter-tones. The main melody is sung in the middle register and the quality of Yma's tone is lovely.

From Inca Taqui
Recorded Recorded: March 7, 1953 probably at Capitol Records studios and released August 1953

  1. Cumbe-Maita ("Call of the Andes", Moisés Vivanco)
    This is yet another piece credited to Moisés Vivanco even though it was written as a flute solo by flautist Hernán Braña. It offers her an excellent opportunity to provide some stunning vocalism and, according to Hernán, it was originally a flute solo he wrote and played during the Sumac concerts.
  2. Incacho ("Royal Anthem", Moisés Vivanco)
    Beginning regally with a crash of a gong and woodwind figures in open fifths out of which Yma suddenly enters and takes off in regulated, ascending staccati phrases that climb to high E natural over guitar accompaniment, this form of the song dates back to the Incan period. It is more commonly known as an Huayno dance called "Hatun Tusuy" and is usually played by instrumental groups.
  3. Chuncho ("The Forest Creatures", Moisés Vivanco)
    Having no melody in this piece to speak of but rather a collection (or exhibition) of imitative sounds couched in a loose musical framework over the strumming of a guitar and an occasional contribution from quena and percussion, it was an unadulterated and unapologetic tour de force that was always placed in the last set of Yma's live programs. During the song, the only light in the concert hall was a spotlight that was shown on her face. When the piece was over, the spotlight was quickly extinguished leaving the audience and stage in complete darkness. Without fail, there was first stunned silence from the audience, then pandemonium. The lighting effect was Moisés' brilliant idea.
  4. Llulla Mak'ta ("Andean Don Juan", Moisés Vivanco)
    This is a modernized, slick arrangement of one of Yma's 1943 recordings, "Cholo Traicioniero". This piece is a sprightly, cheerful version of the original Andean song. Although there is over-dubbing and choral extras, they fit better in this music and both manage to successfully contribute to the gaiety of the piece and provide suitable background noise.
  5. Malaya! ("My Destiny", Moisés Vivanco)
    Accompanied by guitar and drums (and chorus), this song has a definite ritualistic atmosphere which exhibits over three octaves of Yma's voice, from contralto D to coloratura soprano E.
  6. Ripui ("Farewell", Moisés Vivanco)
    Oddly, this song appeared frequently in nightclub performances, though under the title of "Yo Ya Me Voy" (the words spoken in the song). Because of the song's minimal range requirements, it was probably used as a "rest" spot for Yma between more pyrotechnical numbers. The main melody is sung in a warm, rich, mezzo soprano voice and has her providing nice colorations with the use of "Zshu" sung in a breathy sotto-voce.

From Mambo!, Billy May & his Orchestra
Recorded: August and September 1954, probably at Capitol Records studios and released in February 1955

  1. Bo Mambo (Moisés Vivanco, Billy May)
    The introduction boasts brilliant brass writing, after which Yma enters with a bouncy tune in her most seductive contralto voice.
  2. Taki Rari (Moisés Vivanco)
    Although credited to Moisés Vivanco, this song was actually written by Hernán Braña with help from Billy May. It is a virtuostic exercise in rhythm, high staccati and purely floated, flute-like high notes which subtly demonstrates Hernán's intuitive knowledge of Yma's voice and its capabilities. Her singing is perfect; pin-pointed and without one note out of place.
  3. Gopher Mambo (Konrad Gozzo, Billy May)
    Although this song has a ridiculous title, it is one of the best songs from the Mambo! album. It is a vivacious, hip-wiggling song, notable for Yma's unfailing attention to rhythmic and consonant accents and their subtle variations. It is infectious music and, throughout three octaves, Yma's singing is flawless with a true joie de vivre.
  4. Chicken Talk (Moisés Vivanco)
    A strong Spanish influence pervades the song and like others on the Mambo! album, it opens with a brilliant brass fanfare. This leads into an atmospheric section where Yma vocalises over guitar accompaniment with roulades of extensive range in the style of Flamenco singers. During this short number, Yma manages to cover almost three octaves, from the contralto F# to the soprano high E.
  5. Jungla (Moisés Vivanco, Billy May)
    This is a stunning vocalise; an exercise in the singing of chromatics that shows Yma's excellent command of pitch. Add to this the constant drum beat that underlines the vocal line and you have a song that musically represents the heady lushness of a tropical jungle.

Singles
recorded on April 21st, 1952 at the Cotillion Room at the Hotel Pierre in New York City

  1. Babalu (Margarita Lecuona, arr. Moisés Vivanco)
    The original was sung by the Cuban singer, Galito Valdez and, as one would expect, is sung here in the Yma Sumac style. As in "Tumpa!" that can be heard earlier in this collection, Yma takes off in wordless flights of staccati and high notes that were her trademark.
  2. Wimoweh (Mbube, traditional Zulu, arr. Paul Campbell)
    Wimoweh was based on a traditional Zulu hunting song known as Mbube. Both Babalu and Wimoweh are unusual in that no overdubbing or rerecording was done. These were "first takes", although whether they were done in front of a live audience or not is subject to some debate. They were more likely recorded either during rehearsals or after the evening's performances were over.

Notes compiled and written by Don Pierson, creator and manager of the Yma Sumac Homepage and Archives (SunVirgin.com), with reviews and analysis based on excerpts from the book, Yma Sumac: The Art Behind the Legend. Used with kind permission of author Nick Limansky.

More from Yma Sumac: The Art Behind the Legend can be found on The Legacy of the Diva and at the Yma Sumac Homepage and Archives.

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