Everyone has their favorite summer tunes. Those songs that just say beach, barbecue and fun. But how many of you have summer songs that conjure up critter-filled jungles, exotic natives pounding drums and forbidden rites? You would if you had as much Yma Sumac on your iPod as I do! Yes, when days get warm and meat starts hitting the barbie out comes Yma Sumac.
It’s been that way since I was four. Because Yma Sumac is really an icon of my parents’ generation. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, when High Fidelity and stereophonic sound were first coming into their own, there was a sudden demand for recordings that let audiophiles show off the full sound range of their equipment. Enter a subset of what we now know as Lounge, which was called Exotica. Exotica could be loosely recognized by a couple of criteria: it conjured up foreign locales, preferably uncharted and with a jungle; and it included all sorts of esoteric percussion instruments like native drums, Marimbas, Burmese gongs and Japanese kotos. (Extra points for the inclusion of animal and bird sounds.) As you can tell from that list of instruments, authenticity was not important. Exotica, in the words of leading practitioner, Martin Denny, was “a combination of the South Pacific and the Orient…what a lot of people imagined the islands to be like…it’s pure fantasy though.” And if those Polynesian drums were paired with Cuban vocals and Congo bird calls, so much the better.
It was a little early in the decade to use the word “Trippy”, but Exotica certainly was. However, the drug of choice when listening was a Mai Tai, a Zombie or any drink that might be served in a Tiki mug at Trader Vic’s.
Suffice it to say that by the time my brother and I were old enough to get into Dad’s record cabinet, it was filled with the giants of Exotica: Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Esquivel. But the Queen of the cabinet was Yma Sumac and she was a featured performer at all my parents’ cocktail parties.
Yma Sumac, a Peruvian soprano, billed herself as a Quechua Inca princess, directly descended from Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor. Don’t tell me she wasn’t. I need her to be! If Yma Sumac recordings aren’t piped in from all corners of Machu Picchu, I’m not going.
Her amazing five octave range was built to order for an audiophile like my Dad. In the span of one song, Yma Sumac would trill beyond the highest range of a Mozart coloratura, then swoop down several octaves to what seemed like bass-baritone range. She could out-scat Ella Fitzgerald with a variety of pseudo Spanish/Indian vowels, high trills and low Jaguar-like growls. She could even throw in a “double voice” like a Tuvan Throat Singer. Did anyone know what she was singing? Did it matter? It all conjured up some weird amalgam of voodoo ceremonies, jungle rites, Polynesian fertility dances and Cat People spookiness. Excellent. Hand me a Samoan Fog Cutter with a Pu Pu Platter on the side.
Sadly, the lady is no longer with us. She died on November 1, 2008, aged 86, after a long career of International acclaim. (She was surprisingly popular in the former Soviet Union which is the last place you’d expect to find Tiki afficianados.) At least she lived to see a big revival of Exotica and her recordings in the late 1990s.
But Yma, you’ll live on forever at more adventurous backyard barbecues everywhere. I lift a Tiki mug with pineapple garnish and a little paper umbrella to your unmatched talent.
Note: You’ll find Yma Sumac well represented in all her acrobatic vocal glory on many of the Ultra Lounge collections. Find them on iTunes and at Amazon.
Here’s a clip from a French documentary that was made toward the end of Yma’s life featuring one of her greatest: Mambo No. 1. Listen all the way through to get the true Yma Sumac Experience.
She must have sung at the tiki lounge in the Fairmont!
That would have been the perfect venue, what with the simulated tropical rainstorm every half hour.
Did your father also have the record with the locomotive sound moving from the left speaker to the right speaker?
How did you guess? Ah, the innocent days when stereophonic sound was young and exciting.
when I saw the title of this blog post, I though you were somehow going to be referring to poison sumac on your land…I really shouldn’t say my thoughts out loud.
A five octave range — wow!! was that the same as Mariah Carey in her hey day (no comparison musically but she did have quite a voice at one time)
Checking on the documentary now..
wow – quite an unusual sound. And I love her look – from the autograph session photo in her later years it appears that she still had a glamour about her, especially with the dramatic eye makeup.
Not to mention the leopardskin coat. Worthy of a Tiki Goddess.
Why users still use to read news papers when in this technological globe all is available on web?
Here is my web-site; like this
Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it
from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple
adjustements would really make my blog jump out.
Please let me know where you got your theme. Thank you
Simply desire to say your article is as astounding.
The clarity in your post is just spectacular and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.
Well with your permission allow me to grab your
RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry
on the rewarding work.
Hi there, You have done a great job. I will definitely digg
it and personally recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this
Hello! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website?
I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform.
I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.
It’s going to be ending of mine day, but before ending I am reading this wonderful article to increase my know-how.
Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful
& it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.
Feel free to visit my homepage; bid bond requirements
Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before but after going
through some of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely pleased I discovered it and I’ll be book-marking
it and checking back often!
Fantastic goods from you, man. I’ve remember your stuff previous to and you are
just too magnificent. I actually like what you’ve got right
here, certainly like what you are stating and the way through which
you say it. You’re making it entertaining and you still care for to stay it smart.
I can not wait to read far more from you. That is really a wonderful site.
Excellent items from you, man. I have take into accout your stuff prior to
and you’re simply too wonderful. I actually like what you’ve obtained
here, really like what you are saying and the best way in which you are saying it.
You’re making it entertaining and you continue to take
care of to keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read much more from you.
This is really a great website.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and
I am waiting for your next write ups thank you once again.
my web site … good auto body repair shop Sacramento
Hello, its good post on the topic of media print,
we all know media is a fantastic source of facts.