Kamal Hai! YouTube Cultural Tours

Sharing the weird and wonderful performances excavated during my YouTube travels . . .

Yma Sumac

A Peruvian "soprano" with one of the widest recorded vocal ranges in history, Yma could sing in 4 + octaves and create some of the most haunting sounds you've ever heard come from a human throat.

Tumpa (The Secret of the Incas, 1954)

It's rumored that she was also able to sing in a double/echo of her own voice. Yma can be found in minor roles in a few Hollywood movies from the 50's, in her recorded "exotica" albums, and in a few television appearances.

Panchama (The Secret of the Incas, 1954)

If you don't seek her out in anything else ever, you MUST watch this performance of "Chuncho," where she walks through the forest singing AND providing the background noise of the jungle. Instead of being accompanied by birds and frogs and insects (like every Disney heroine and some Bollywood heroines), she IS the jungle personified. It's fabulous and might also give you nightmares.

Central Asian Bird Dances

You may have seen this WTF dance from 1968's Suhaag Raat:

But "bird dances" aren't just a thing in Bollywood. A few years ago I ran across quite a few of them--especially in Central Asia (across the 'Stans mostly). Between the weird contortions and the costumes, I just LOVE this cross-cultural trend. See for yourself:

A Kazakh Swan . . .

An Uzbek compilation featuring women as willow trees and gender-bending as a male peacock (at 1.56):

A Chinese dancer with a similar "fowl" idea . . . but a very different interpretation:

A different sort of Kazakh swan:

And for the bonus round--a Tajik "rose" dance (that may originally be a Chinese or Ughur dance):

For your Russian music needs

A Soviet soldier dance . . . with the top YouTube comment being, "In soviet Russia people control gravity while dancing."

A poignant ballad from a Soviet "bro-ooooad trip" film (True Friends, 1957):

A selection from the soviet film version of Shostakovitch's "Cherry Town" (Cheryomushki, 1963):

And not to forget the Egyptian films I've been exploring . . .

A hybridized-Viennese dance sung and composed respectively by the sister-brother team Asmahan and Farid-al-Attrache:


  1. I had the pleasure of seeing Yma Sumac perform in San Francisco during the early 80s. She was in great voice but had a kind of Norma Desmond quality. She kept saying how happy she was to be back in "the diamond light of show business".

    1. Todd,
      I am both envious and amused. Going by the few clips I've seen of Yma's later performances, I can totally imagine her in full "We had FACES then!" mode. That "diamond light" thing is a good line, too... *files away for a melodramatic day*


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