Galaxy of Sound

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Nothing defines A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge quite like music. Specifically, the music that became popular during the Mid-Century Modern era in America, which roughly correlates to the Baby Boomer period of 1946-64. However, the correlation begins and ends there! The wonderful music that Baby Boomers neglected, this Gen-Xer celebrates, along with the rest of my Tiki ohana. This is the soundtrack to our lifestyle.

A picture’s worth 1,000 words, so you can see for yourself the 5 musical genres that comprise my Galaxy of Sound. I plan to go into depth for each one in future posts, so for now, let’s just play a little word association, shall we? I will list each style followed by the name of the artist who created/defined that style, followed by a modern artist who revived/thrives in it. Let’s start with the center of my galaxy.

Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Esquivel. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica.

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Exotica. Martin Denny. The Left Arm of Buddha.

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Lounge. The Rat Pack. Martini Kings.

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Surf. Dick Dale. Los Straitjackets.

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Hawaiian. Don Ho. King Kukulele

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These are just my opinions of the pioneers and standard bearers for each of these 5 musical styles. You may have a different opinion on the king of the surf guitar, and I’d love to hear it! The wonderful thing about Tiki music is its diversity, and even more amazing is how many artists are performing it all across the country and around the world. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more musicians over the years, some as recently as two weeks ago at The Hukilau. I look forward to introducing you to many of these performers in my coming posts. First up will be surf music. Cowabunga!

The Hukilau: Day 3

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Saturday 14Jun14

Flag day. I was up surprisingly early for the 3rd day of The Hukilau, considering how late I got to bed yesterday. Well, actually, earlier today. Another breakfast, another swim in the pool, and we were ready to roll for what promised to be the most intense day of this wonderful Tiki event.

On this 3rd day, music was the main focus. Not just any music, but some really theatrical productions. It started at noon with the U.S. premier of The Left Arm of Buddha, an exotica band from Belgium. Eight musicians, three dancing girls, and one wacky emcee made for an amazingly fun show! I would go out of my way to see these guys again. Merci, Left Arm of Buddha!

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The main event was at The Mai-Kai tonight, home of the wonderful Polynesian dance show. We got there early, around 4:30, for happy hour in the Molokai Lounge. Half-price appetizers and drinks (including my favorite Mai-Tai on Earth!) went down easy, along with some cool Hapa Haole (Hawaiian-American fusion) tunes provided by the Smokin’ Menehunes, a nice 3-piece combo from Huntingdon Beach, CA.

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The main stage show began at about 6 with some more musical comedy by emcee King Kukulele, followed by a bunch of announcements and tributes by and to Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, the founder of The Hukilau. What a great job she’s done to keep this event going for 13 years! After a tasty dinner, the Polynesian show began in earnest. I honestly believe you would have to travel to an actual South Pacific island to see a display more authentic than the Polynesian show at The Mai-Kai. I literally choked back tears as I watched this beautiful, moving show. Mahalo, Mai-Kai!

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After the Polynesian show ended, we retreated to the Samoa Room at The Mai-Kai to catch some more music by Grinder Nova, a great band from Atlanta GA who also played at the Friday night event. When that got too crowded, it was back to the Molokai Lounge for another Mai-Tai and more tunes, this time by another rocking surf band, Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays, from South FL. These guys may have been the best band I heard all weekend! Even the lead guitarist from The Intoxicators was hanging out in the Molokai checking out Skinny Jimmy before heading back to Samoa to play the last set of the night. Good times.

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Another late night at The Hukilau, and I’ll be happy to get home and rest, but I’m so glad I finally got to attend this amazing event. I’ve seen and learned so much, but the best part was meeting so many kindred Tiki souls. It was cool to meet the titans of the Tiki world, but it was even nicer to make new friends who share a common bond. Cudra Clover. Carrie White. Anna Sanchez. And that barefoot Belgian bongo-banging crazy man from The Left Arm of Buddha. I hope to see you all again someday soon. Mahalo!

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The Hukilau: Day 1

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Thursday 12Jun14

The day began early. Very early. 5am early. My iPhone alarm woke me up in my friend Stan’s guest bedroom. Stan lives 10 minutes away from the Philly airport, and he and his wife Diana were kind enough to give me shelter for the night, and a ride to the airport, so I wouldn’t have to sweat the 90-minute drive from Bethlehem. Stan dropped me off at 5:45, I checked my bag curbside with a skycap, made it through security in only 10 minutes, and had plenty of time to board my flight for a 6:45 takeoff. Southwest Airlines flight 1655 arrived in Fort Lauderdale without incident at 9:15.

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I met my buddy Bruce at the airport and we cabbed it to our Hukilau headquarters, the Bahia Mar hotel. Our room was ready early so we checked in, got settled, then headed over to our first event: the Jeff Beachbum Berry symposium at The Mai-Kai. After my first Mai-Tai and some tasty appetizers, Beachbum took the stage and gave a wonderful presentation on the dark days of tiki drinks, starting in the 1970s. He interspersed his talk with his own personal history of Tiki discovery, which made for a wonderful story. We also got a sample of a new drink he created in a collectible Beachbum Berry glass, along with a couple of other sample drinks. We were feeling pretty good about the start of The Hukilau, and I was happy to finally meet Mr. Berry in person!

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After returning to the Bahia Mar and a light dinner, we attended the opening event in the ballroom. What an eclectic mix of Tiki entertainment! King Kukulele as the emcee serenaded us with his brand of comedic Hawaiian music, followed by Kinky Waikiki’s steel guitar, burlesque performances by MeduSirena Marina’s Aquaticats and Angie Pontani, and some rocking surf music by The Intoxicators. All surrounded by a marketplace of Tiki vendors with stuff I’ve never dreamed of being able to buy. Good times!

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We ended the night with an after party back at The Mai-Kai, where I enjoyed one last Mai-Tai with my friends Beth Lennon (Mod Betty) and Cliff Hillis (Pop Star) and the sounds of Gold Dust Lounge on the main stage. A perfect ending to a great first day. Aloha from The Hukilau!

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A. Panda’s Bucket List

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Next year, 2015, I will turn 50 years old. God willing. I’m not a big milestone guy, and I certainly don’t want any birthday party so everybody can celebrate how old I’ve become, as if just making it to half a century is some remarkable achievement. No, I’d rather look at some of the things I haven’t achieved yet and start knocking them out. Hence my bucket list.

I have been working on this for a few years, so I’ve accomplished some of the easier things:

Drank at a Swim-Up Bar, Montego Bay Jamaica, 2003

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Met SHAG, NYC, 2007

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Visited The Mai-Kai, Ft. Lauderdale FL, 2012

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Met Bob and Leroy at Oceanic Arts, Whittier CA, 2013

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So what’s next? Well, I’ve always wanted to attend The Hukilau, the world’s biggest Tiki geek event, so I put that on the calendar for this year. In fact, I’ll be there in a little over a month, and I plan to blog live from The Hukilau, so stay tuned for that. I hope to meet some of my other Tiki heroes in-person there, like Sven Kirsten, King Kukulele, Bamboo Ben, MeduSirena Marina, and Beachbum Berry.

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Speaking of Beachbum Berry, he just announced that he’s finally opening his own Tiki bar in New Orleans this fall. This brings me to my next big item: Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Sounds like a good way to kick off 2015! Look for Jess and me at the Bienville House Hotel in the French Quarter next February, anchoring Bum’s new bar, Latitude 29.

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For a big finish, I really want to see Hawaii. Not just one island, but all of them! Well, at least the big ones, so I can look for Pele in Hawaii, do the touristy stuff on Oahu, try surfing in Maui, and see the unspoiled beauty of Kauai. Jess and I have talked about doing this trip in June 2015, over my actual birthday. As long as we are physically, emotionally, and financially able to pull this off, you will see me posting from Hawaii next year. Book it, Dan-O!

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I will close with a shout-out to Lesley Carter and her blog, Bucket List Publications. Lesley’s blog was the first one I started following after I started writing my own. I was so inspired by her mantra: “Some people make bucket lists to see places before they die; I make them so that I might truly live.” Wise words! Please take the time to check out this amazing blog. Mahalo, Lesley – perhaps our paths will actually cross some day!

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Tiki 101

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What is Tiki?

In Polynesian mythology, Tiki is a male figure sometimes identified as the first man. Tiki can also mean a wooden or stone image of a Polynesian god. But where exactly is Polynesia? Polynesia is a group of scattered islands in the Central and South Pacific Ocean, bordered roughly between New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.

Conventional wisdom states that the Polynesian islands were settled by Asian explorers headed east. But could there be another story? Again calling on Polynesian mythology, Tiki, the first man, came from the east, following the sun. According to Peruvian pre-Incan mythology, Con-Tici Viracocha, the creator god, disappeared across the Pacific Ocean and never returned. Was there a connection?

Thor Heyerdal thought so. A Norwegian explorer and sociologist, Heyerdal was convinced that Polynesia was settled by South Americans. In 1947, he set out to prove this theory by sailing from South America to Polynesia on a balsa-wood raft, like the pre-Incan explorers did. Heyerdal and his crew constructed their raft using only ancient methods and materials, and named it the Kon-Tiki. They succeeded in sailing from Peru to Tuamota, a distance of 4,300 miles, in 101 days. The Kon-Tiki expedition attracted worldwide attention for Thor Heyerdal and the Polynesian islands. Heyerdal’s documentary of this expedition won the Oscar for best documentary feature in 1951.

The postwar period after 1945 saw an explosion of Polynesian and Tiki culture in America. Soldiers from the Pacific theatre of WWII, who experienced Polynesia firsthand, returned home with stories of a lush tropical paradise and beautiful native girls. These stories led to a growing interest in all things Polynesian, as an exotic escape from the everyday world. During the 1950s, Tiki invaded America in the form of bars and supper clubs, architecture, music and television, art, and home decor. The backyard luaus and basement Tiki bars peaked with the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state in 1959.

As we entered the 1960s in America, the growing drug culture replaced Tiki culture as the preferred means of escape for the next generation. Hippies saw their parents’ backyard Polynesia as pretty square, so Tiki became passé. Many old Polynesian structures and institutions were lost forever.

Fortunately, Tiki started regaining popularity in the 1990s. Urban archeologists like Sven Kirsten led the way back. Kirsten’s 2000 publication, The Book of Tiki, is the seminal work on the subject. He researched and recreated a cultural phenomenon that was, and is, purely American. Tiki today is once again manifest in resorts, bars, artwork, and music. Names like Disney have been responsible for keeping Tiki alive in their parks and resorts (Enchanted Tiki Room, Polynesian Resort, Trader Sam’s). Other names include Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (mixology), Josh “SHAG” Agle (art), Leroy Scmaltz/Oceanic Arts (carving/decor), King Kukulele (music) and many others. Tiki is alive and well!

So what is Tiki? Tiki is:

  • An escapist state of mind;
  • A blending of Polynesia and America;
  • A celebration of culture through art, music, decor and libations;
  • A nod to our mid-century past;
  • A thriving lifestyle today.

For more information, I highly recommend reading The Book of Tiki, seeing the movie Kon-Tiki, and liking my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page on Facebook for regular updates on all things Tiki. Mahalo!

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