July 28, 2008

Yma Sumac, Inca princess?

A fan reports on Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer who once claimed to be an Inca princess. First, a summary from Wikipedia:Yma Sumac is a noted soprano of Peruvian origin. In the 1950s, she was one of the most famous proponents of exotica music, and became an international success based on the merits of her extreme vocal range "well over three octaves," which was commonly claimed to span four and even five octaves at its peak.Viva la diva!:  Rupert Smith explains his fascination with Yma Sumac[I]t became a race to acquire as many Sumac recordings as possible. Most of the albums were deleted, and one had to rely on second-hand shops or large stores with very slow turnover. But gradually we amassed them all, revelled in the music and obsessed over the covers, luridly-coloured photos of Yma in exotic drag, raven hair swept back, eyes concealed by make-up. Sleeve notes added fuel to the fire, with their transparently false claims that Sumac was an Inca princess/priestess, discovered "talking to the birds" in the Peruvian mountains, and that her songs were "genuine" Inca music. When we discovered a rumour that said princess was in fact a media-savvy Brooklyn waitress born Amy Camus, our obsession was complete.

Now, a painstakingly researched biography of Yma Sumac reveals that she was neither of those things, but simply an extraordinarily talented, eccentrically managed Peruvian singer born some time in the 1920s. She rode to stardom on the back of her amazing vocal range and her extremely imaginative manager/publicist/husband Moises Vivanco, who tapped into America's postwar lust for escapism by packaging her as an otherworldly Hispanic sexpot. Her recordings, from 1950s Voice of the Xtabay onwards, sold in vast quantities, she toured all over the world (including the USSR at the height of the Cold War), made a few films and a great deal of money.
And:I am particularly fond of two Yma Sumac albums, and listen to them constantly. The first is Legend of the Jivaro (1957), on the cover of which Sumac appears as a crazed priestess hovering glamorously over a smoking cauldron, surrounded by shrunken heads. The tracks purport to be the songs of the Amazonian Jivaro tribe; if they really are, I want to go and live with these people immediately. Track 7, "Hampi," is a cocaine ritual, and you can hear the backing vocalists assiduously chewing the leaf while Yma goes into a violent coke frenzy that leaves her panting and exhausted.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indian Women as Sex Objects and Indian Wannabes.

1 comment:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Oh,wow, FATE Magazine! That is where writerfella first learned about 'mysteries' and 'conspiracies.' Too bad that Ray Palmer long is deceased, or he would have a lot to say about this blogsite...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'