Entertainment Hive 2020

Yma Sumac, The Peruvian Songbird starring Ali McGregor

Adelaide Cabaret Festival, June 14-16

Review by Honey B

Ali McGregor has opened our eyes to the mysteries of famous 1950s recording artist Yma Sumac. In her final year as Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director, McGregor has shared her most passionate performance and the remarkable musical story of this intriguing artist in Yma Sumac, The Peruvian Songbird. McGregor first heard Sumac’s ethereal voice in the late 1990s when her record company released a lot of its back catalogue for DJs to remix. Many may unsuspectingly know Sumac’s voice from The Black Eyed Peas track, Hands Up. The opera singer didn’t know if what she was hearing was a human voice, an instrument or a computer trick. It was a human voice. She was intrigued and started to dig further into the life of the South American exotica and mambo singer who started out singing traditional Incan folk songs and had an almost five-octave range. With Sumac on her mind, McGregor befriended her former assistant and ended up buying lot of Sumac’s jewellery and costumes (Sumac passed away in 2008). In fact, McGregor wears this jewellery in the show. This intimate, intriguing and jaw-dropping show is woven around this journey of discovery as McGregor researched Sumac’s legacy. That McGregor can bring Sumac’s voice to life in this show is absolutely thrilling as she reaches the absolute shrill highs, bass lows and everywhere in-between. Surely there are few singers anywhere in the world who can perform a show as demanding and technically difficult as this and McGregor was breathtakingly mesmerising and technically outstanding. McGregor explained that Sumac taught herself to sing by imitating birds and she shows us exactly how on her rendition of Chuncho. But Sumac had bigger dreams than singing with birds in the Peruvian mountains and along with her husband Moises Vivanco and cousin Cholita Rivero the trio moved to New York. Life was not smooth sailing for the little family group as they hit the highs of fame and life came tumbling in around them, but music was the constant in-between the dramas. The production featured a tight six-piece band and two performers, Mikelangelo as Moises and Lily Paskas- Goodfellow as Cholita. McGregor not only used her vocal ability to its full extraordinary capacity, but she looked amazing with several stunning costume changes. This show is exactly what cabaret should be about, it’s intimate storytelling. Not only do we find out about this mysterious and largely forgotten Incan queen, but this was as much about McGregor’s intimate journey. McGregor peeled back the layers of this multifaceted woman and separated the Hollywood fiction from the fact. It’s wonderful to see Yma Sumac take back some of her agency. This is a must see show of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – get in quick.
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