American composer Les Baxter first carved out this unusual musical niche with the jungle-inspired arrangements of Ritual of the Savage. Adding a variety of transoceanic instruments such as Burmese gongs, congas, and Japanese kotos to traditional orchestral instruments, Baxter’s records offered 1950’s listeners an alluring escape from everyday reality. By the late ’50’s most major record labels had caught on to the exotica trend, taking its name from Martin Denny’s 1957 album Exotica. The haunting vocals of Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac, whose range at her peak spanned 5 octaves, lent the sound an otherworldly quality. Nicknamed The Incan Princess, the exotic beauty perfectly fit the image of the genre, and Sumac collaborated extensively with Baxter on the exotica albums.

While these songs rarely strayed from the jungle concept, they were, in the words of Martin Denny, “pure fantasy”. By contrast, this playlist also features songs from Peru’s Amazon region- jungle music straight from the source.