- 19 Apr 01
ONE mystery to be cleared up concerns the bizarre 41/2 octave voice of Yma Sumac.
ONE mystery to be cleared up concerns the bizarre 41/2 octave voice of Yma Sumac. This rather unique diva is starting to get noticed again thanks to the interest in lounge music and the many exotica albums which are in the shops. As with most of this stuff, you’re never quite sure how to take it – kitsch or quality? – but Ms. Sumac sure can sing.
Born in Ichocan in the Peruvian Andes, Sumac’s given name is (and I’ll take a run at this) Zola Emmeratriz Chavarri del Castillo – her real name being Ima Sumack. After a career as a singer and movie star in South America, Sumac moved to the US in the 1940s and was signed ten years later to Capitol Records, recording mainly exotic versions of South American songs. And this is precisely the material which is once more providing the eccentric backdrop to cocktail parties – if such things really exist.
There’s no truth, however, in the rumour that she is actually from Brooklyn and that her real name is Amy Camus (Yma Sumac backwards). This confusion arose when one of her band noticed the distinctive backward possibilities of her name and it all ended up in a newspaper column by Walter Winchell. It was total nonsense but also make for great publicity and Sumac did in fact become an honorary citizen of Brooklyn in 1957. Ever since reading that story I try, in moments of calm, to carefully write out the names of great performers backwards – Sivle, Nonnel, Nav, Bob, Olletsoc, Reggaj, Leinad and quite spectacularly – Onob. It passes the time but has revealed nothing.
If you’re after an Yma Sumac record, try Mambo on Capitol records. And for a wonderful sample of her Chicken Talk, there’s a fine slice of music from the Somalian singer Maryam Mursal on her album The Journey on the Real World label. She’s from the group Waaberi and supported Nina Simone last year in London.
Top of my list of frequently asked questions these days concerns a quite bizarre record called Irish Mambo – a cross between rock n’ roll, doo-wop, mambo and paddywhackery. It was recorded by an outfit called The Honeydreamers and was written by Redmond and Cavanaugh whoever they were. Not much is known about this terrible/wonderful record other than that it is a piece of ’50s New York commercialism hoping to capitalise on the many mambo crazes of the day.
The record label is Double AA and the number is AA-105-X45 – apart from that you’re on your own. I don’t even have a sleeve. If you find one you can treasure it forever, if only for the bagpipes and lyrics such as, “Sure I never thought I would see the day all the fish would mambo in Galway Bay/Sure the little leprechauns shout Ole!/It’s the diddley-eye Irish Mambo!”
They don’t make them like they used to. Just as well etc., etc.
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