Saturday, November 8, 2008


It's been almost a month since my last post, I've been extremely busy these last few weeks. What brings me back to my blog is a sad piece of news : the death of legendary Peruvian singer Yma Sumac.

It's been exactly once week since she passed away and I felt the need to write a post on her. I remember listening to her music when I was around seven or eight years old. My parents introduced me to her music and I remember one specific record (we're talking long play here...), I don't recall the actual album name, but I do remember listening to it and staring at the picture of this colorfully made-up woman and a parrot in the background. I think I stared at it mostly because the picture of her was the only sort of evidence I had that the amazing sounds I heard came from an actual human being. Her claim to fame is based on her amazing voice range (five octaves) and for being a pioneer in the mix of typical Peruvian music with jazz and other genres. Though she received a lot of criticism for this by musical purists who were unable to share her vision and appreciate the kind of exposure she would give Peru, her drive for innovation made her a star in the rest of the world. She is the only Peruvian artist to have her name on the Hollywood walk of fame.

I think Yma Sumac is probably Peru's most least-locally-recognized-icon (did that make any sense?). This is quite ironic, my parents used to tell me how back when we used to live in Europe, they'd introduce themselves as Peruvians to locals at dinner parties and one of the first things they'd mention would be her name, yet when I came back to Lima and mentioned her name to people I met, all I'd get in response would be an intrigued face.

Yma's music is one of the very few things that have kept me linked to Peru throughout my life. This may sound a little weird, but I've always had a sort of nationality-identity-crisis (if I keep on coming up with these hyphenated expressions I'm going to have to create a special dictionary for them). My father is Peruvian, my mother is Uruguayan and I was born in Romania, I've never felt 100% from just one place, but this will the the topic for a future post.

In 2006 Yma Sumac came to Peru for a series of belated homage ceremonies. It was at the one held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that I was actually able to meet her. This came as a totally unexpected gift, so as to call it, I had already come to terms with the fact I would never be able to see her perform and least of all even meet her.

She was dressed all in pink, hat included, and wore transparent lucite platform sandals. It was a very brief moment, a one I will cherish forever. I was finally meeting and holding the hands of the woman on that record cover.
For more information please visit

No comments: