Peruvian octaves

The Peruvian singer Yma Sumac had a vocal range of four or five octaves – far beyond most singers, and one of the widest ranges on record.

Yma Sumac
Foto Brosio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Yma Sumac is probably best known to English-speaking audiences for her songs “Bo Mambo” and “Goomba Boomba,” both from the 1954 album Mambo! That album is considered to be a key landmark in exotica music, a weird genre that exoticized (ha) foreign music as a kind of primal / tribal yearning. Edward Said would have a field day on the assumptions behind that…

But back to Sumac. Her voice had a rich warmth that could stretch from very low breathy notes through to very high ones. Her song “K’arawi” (see below) jumps five octaves in eleven seconds. Sumac had an impressive career, including #1 hits, performances at Carnegie Hall, on film and in television.


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