Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo, also known as The Peruvian Songbird was born in 1922 in Callao, Peru. Better known to the world as Yma Sumac (how beautiful in Quechua), she boasted a five octave vocal range and claimed to be an Incan Princess and a direct descendant of the last Incan Emperor Atuhalpa who was executed by the Spanish in 1533. The story of Francisco Pizarro and his army of 106 soldiers and 69 horsemen defeating the Incan army of 80,000 men is stuff of legend and a fascinating read.
The song Chuncho means, the forest creatures and Sumac’s range and unique tone captured the sounds of the forest in this intriguing video from her glory days as the Queen of Exotica. Her first album for Capitol records, Voice Of The Xtabay released in 1950 sold a million copies in that year alone. She released another five albums in the fifties as well as having a parallel career in films and appearing on Broadway. She went on to perform many concerts all over the world for the next 40 years, although only one from Bucharest in Rumania in 1961 was recorded and released as an album.
She made no studio albums again until 1971 when she released a Rock album called Miracles written by conductor/arranger Les Baxter.
This was to be her last recording and Sumac’s performance is as great as the band’s is ordinary. Unfortunately she never got the chance to record or experiment outside her medium again – however we do have Nina Hagen.
Yma Sumac died in Los angeles in 2008 from cancer. She was 86 years old.