Review and Analysis of Legend of the Jivaro by Nicholas E. Limansky
From Yma Sumac - The Art Behind the Legend
used with permission - all rights reserved, © Nicholas E. Limansky
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None of the selections [from this album] were used on concerts or nightclub appearances. Recorded in September of 1956, this was the first of Yma's recordings to appear as a 12" LP. It is not hard to understand why it was out of print (except for an occasional import) for over twenty years. Finally, by 1996 it had been formally re-issued as part of the Right Stuff series. Ironically, this unlucky album was discontinued by June 17, 1998. By January of 1999, copies were exceedingly difficult to find.
This is an eccentric and bizarre album; the most outré produced by the Sumac factory. A complete fantasy, the "authentic" accompaniments consist of drums, rattles, bones, wood pots, earthenware jars as well as some more orthodox European-based instruments, and a very low-voiced, union affiliated, male chorus.
The liner notes for this album are among the most unfortunate written for Yma and coming at the time of the separation scandal, were poorly timed:
"To unearth the Jivaro music - the stories their ancient songs tell, the musical instruments of their culture - Yma Sumac and her husband, Moises Vivanco, one of the foremost authorities on ancient music, traveled deep into the headhunters' native territory. There, her mastery of the Jivaro dialect (she was reared less than one hundred miles from their land) helped facilitate the research in that strange and obscure society.
In ancient times, the Jivaros, being neighbors of the highly cultured Incas, were comparatively civilized. However, the advent of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century greatly altered their lives. Their temples were looted, their treasures stolen, their villages destroyed. Thus it was that the Jivaros lived in their remote mountainous jungles, alone and bitter, hating the white man, reverting to a near stone-age existence, including the practice of head-shrinking, and doing all in their power to remain alive and free from the influences of the outside world.
Recently, Yma Sumac and Moisés Vivanco, who serves as her composer, arranger, and conductor, went into the Jivaro country armed only with trinkets, good intentions, and a tape recorder. Fortunately, the Jivaros proved friendly and Vivanco was able to tape innumerable native sounds and melodies to use for reference in the composition of the songs for this album." (Liner notes 1956 pressing)
We are expected to believe that this trip into the dangerous Jivaro country was squeezed in between concert engagements, continuing tax problems, paternity suits and domestic problems. Capitol compounded the insult by boasting:
This album contains the rare plum of authenticity: the songs of the notorious Jivaro headhunters, learned by Yma Sumac in the tribesmens' South American mountain-jungle home and sung by her in in exotic native instrumental settings.
None of Yma's other recordings claimed such blatant authenticity. Legend of the Jivaro sold less well than any of her previous recordings and it was Yma's last foray into a studio to record exotica.
Aside from the fact that at least one song on this disc had been used previously on Mambo!, there is an unsettling and disturbing atmosphere in much of this music which goes beyond being errie, and touches on the psychotic. Generally, Yma's singing is of a high level, even if the selections framing her odd warblings are not. This is not lush exotica like Voice of the Xtabay, or Legend of the Sun Virgin, or even esoteric (if commercialized) like Inca Taqui. This is primitive, bare and obviously contrived. Manipulative, it has limited appeal and most of the selections do not warrant, or bear up well after, repeated hearings. Because the arrangements are much less lush or inventive than previous albums, interest in hearing this particular album wanes after a short while.
Yma's cultured, often operatic singing sounds dreadfully out of place on most of this record and sets up impossible artistic conflicts. The music with its rudimentary arrangements is too primitive in structure and composition to bear up under the wealth of detail and florid pyrotechnics Yma bestows on the songs.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that by 1956, Yma's exotic appeal had diminished. 1956 was also not a good year for the couple. Under tremendous emotional tension and troubled, Yma's singing reflected this. In the songs of a more menacing nature, her singing is almost manic. At its best this is an uneven album that will only appeal to true Sumac fans.
Additional notes: recorded in Hollywood, California, September 1956 and released January 1957. First Yma Sumac album released directly to the 12" LP format; also available as a three disk EP.
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