Sensational diva soprano emerges from Peru’s Southern Andes

By Paul Goulder

Puno awoke one morning last week to the arrival of a reporting team from the top-rated Lima television channel to interview Edith Ramos, whose mercurial, multi-octave voice has people calling her the next Ima Sumac, Peru`s greatest soprano during the Hollywood boom era.

But a more appropriate comparison is that of the Bolivian soprano Luzmila Carpio in terms of the quality of voice and having the determination to carry Andean music to the highest level of appreciation and understanding. Peru’s renowned tenor Juan Diego Florez has been able to do this in his compositions and concerts, but first he had to forge his way to the top via the route of classical opera.

Edith comes from Ayaviri, some two hours to the north of Puno, and is that community’s brightest star. Edith is 25 and charming. She has a beautiful and unassuming stage presence and remains an as-yet undiscovered national treasure.

Edith is determined to train her voice to an international standard on a par with Ima Sumac and Juan Diego, and has the possibility of following studies with maestros at the highest level in Barcelona (Spain).

Ima Sumac (a stage name derived from Quechua — que belleza) was “Hollywood-ized.” There is perhaps less danger that Ramos would be “European-ized”, for it seems that she is determined to return to Peru following a period with maestros at a conservatoire abroad. The point is that she is already the country’s best hope as an international exponent of the lyrical andino and Peru’s own classical tradition (musicologists distinguish between the viceregal and the more dependent colonial). Both these two grand resources — the old and the contemporary — have been discriminated against, lost and found and submerged beneath popular genres like the techno-tropical rhythms of “cumbia” that blares from discos in Asia, the gaga-esque resort town south of the capital, Lima.

Nor is the trajectory of Edith Ramos to be seen as “unreconstructed indigenista,” as a few might have it. She was exposed to world music at an early age by her mother who, having erected suitable short wave antennae on the roof of their Ayaviri residence, rapidly became known as a specialist in global melodies. Edith was talent-spotted, it seems, by a local priest and is a product of the excellent Escuela Regional de Musica Leandro Alviña Miranda.

What could be seen — thanks to YouTube — as her international launch concert or debut demonstrates, is the determination that her music should not to be labeled too easily: for example as Andean or Classical. The program provokes the description “Richly Peruvian.”

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