I was completely captured and truly spellbound by this piece of music when I heard it last night for the first time. I couldn’t decide whether I was lost on an exotic island or wandering a scorched, parched desert in the wild west; I think the world I was whisked off to was a little bit of both. Either way I was bewitched, I AM bewitched!
Balsa Boat was a piece of music that featured on an album called Realm Of The Incas which was released in 1961. The lady behind this record is, upon first glance, something of a marvel and I’m pretty sure that if I read more I will be just as enchanted by her life story as I am by her music!
Born Elisabeth Waldo Dentzel in 1918, Elisabeth Waldo is a violinist, composer, songwriter, conductor and ethnomusicologist. She grew up on her family’s ranch at the edge of the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State and is a scholar of pre-Colombian era music. Known for adapting Native American musical instruments into her compositions, she was also trained in classical music and often fused together both ancient and contemporary styles of American music! Possibly one of the pinnacle points to outline is her contribution to Exotica; Elisabeth is recognised and revered as being one of the pioneers of this genre!!
She is now 102 and was active in music for nearly 70 years!!! Throughout her impressive career she spent many years in Latin America as a touring solo performer, playing in Panamá, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Cuba, and Mexico before taking up residence in Mexico City, where she was a regular on the newly networked national radio. In 1954-55, Waldo played violin for the Peruvian-American soprano Yma Sumac, helping to create a sound that fused Andean folk songs with Caribbean rhythms, big band jazz and operatic singing. While displaying her talents as a soloist in the orchestra, Waldo regarded her work with Sumac’s touring show as part of her research into Latin American music.
Working with arrangers like Les Baxter and Billy May, Sumac helped define the music that would become known as exotica. Inspired by her time with Sumac, Waldo returned to Los Angeles and formed an ensemble that used instruments from Native North, South, and Meso-America to play her own original compositions.
Waldo was among the first to bring many pre-Columbian instruments into a recording studio for her albums Maracatu (1959), Rites of the Pagan (1960) and Realm of the Incas (1961). Although based on her research in indigenous music, the albums were unlike field recordings of Native American music produced by ethnomusicologists at the time: they were made in the studio using the most advanced high fidelity and stereo recording techniques, and all of the compositions were by Waldo. For these reasons her records would later not be regarded as “world music” but as “new-age music” and then “exotica”.
This touches upon only a small fraction of what is/was an impressive and expansive career! Forgive passages that are copied from other sources, there is just so much to take in!! What matters is I’ve put across my admiration for this music; I’ve always had an attraction for Exotica, so to to discover a pioneer of this genre in Waldo is something of an exciting discovery for me!
Balsa Boat is what brought me to Elisabeth Waldo and I hope you find listening to this song as captivating as I do? Check it out above.