Capitol Records

On the trail of Yma Sumac: The exotica legend came from Peru, but her career was all Hollywood

On the trail of Yma Sumac: The exotica legend came from Peru, but her career was all Hollywood

As a Peruvian kid growing up in Southern California, I’d pick through my father’s record collection, between the LPs of Peruvian creole waltzes and Mexican ballads, to admire a strange album by an alluring woman dripping in jewelry, posing before an erupting volcano.

The album was “Voice of the Xtabay.” And the woman was Yma Sumac, the Peruvian songstress with the four-octave voice that launched the musical genre known as exotica, a cinematic fusion of international styles that allowed mid-20th century audiences a taste of the mysterious and the remote.

Sumac was the imperious, raven-haired Inca princess — “descendant of the last of the Incan kings,” according to lore — who...

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