May 18 2011: Virgin of the Sun God (Taiti Inty) by Yma Sumac (Capitol 78, 1950)

Some things you expect to find in a box of 78s in a Nottingham car park but one containing two tracks from Yma Sumac’s Voice of the Xtabay, in absolutely pristine condition, isn’t really one of those things. It’s not that Sumac’s records are vanishingly rare (her collaborations with Les Baxter and Moises Vivanco sold very well at the time) just that there’s something oddly unreal about their very existence. Fabricated rituals, strings and percussion, a voice that ranges from ethereal to animal, floating out way beyond the usual fireworks of operatic soprano singing…the whole thing feels like it came from another world.

Which I suppose it did, in the sense that 1950 is that other world. Its vision of the future? Well, we know how different that was. But its sense of the primal, elemental and ancient wasn’t ours either. Just listen to Virgin of the Sun God (Taiti Inty), with its voice as theremin, growl, singing bird and operatic aria, as jazz scat and bedroom whisper, all at once. Nothing else had ever sounded quite like this, and listening to Sumac at her furthest-out (as on Chuncho) it seems like nothing ever will again.

Which all hopefully explains why pulling this pristine 78 out from among its scratched Tommy Steele and broken Richard Tauber companions last Saturday felt like (and is) a kind of small miracle.


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