The Spinners

Mambo! (Yma Sumac, 1954)

In Exotica, Peruvian, Rex Baylon, Summer Albums on April 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

Lounge/Exotica is a long dead music genre. It’s listened too much for its kitsch factor than anything else, and yet I can’t get enough of it. The genre itself conjures up images of tiki bars, brightly colored cocktail drinks, and rattan furniture. And during this daydream fantasy I wouldn’t have anyone other than Yma Sumac (pronounced Eee-mah Soo-mack) playing in the background.

Gifted with an amazing voice and decked out in a gypsy gown, ornate headgear, and flamboyant jewelry, Yma is the queen of tiki culture. In an industry that demands conformity, she refuses to bend to other people’s rules. Divas like Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Celine Dion are pale imitators of Yma’s five-octave soprano vocal range.

Her 1954 album Mambo! is the perfect summer album because you can’t fight the urge to dance when you listen to it. The raw energy, lush orchestration, and Yma’s ethereal voice seem to exist in some parallel universe where men are dressed like Cary Grant and women look like Grace Kelly or Rita Hayworth. The inherent kitsch factor of some songs in Mambo! may turn many people off, but summer is not the time to take oneself seriously. Get up! Move! Have fun! But please don’t be boring about it.

– Rex Baylon

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