A. Panda’s Exotica Lounge

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So, here we go again, back to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge for another music mix. This time I’m shooting for a compilation of Exotica and Lounge tunes, many of which I’ve only recently discovered. A lot of these songs are from the heyday of this style of music, the 1950s and 1960s. Many more are by modern-day artists who either revisited old chestnuts or created something new. All of them should fill you with a sense of escape, which is what we’re all about here in the Tiki Lounge.

Now, I’m not an artist or musician, though I really appreciate both. Where I flex my creative muscles is in writing and compiling. That’s why I enjoy this blog, and that’s why I also enjoy making music mixes. It really is an art form, mixing up other peoples’ work into something completely new.

For this particular musical collection, I have Dawn Frasier to thank for the inspiration. Dawn is an amazingly talented artist in Seattle who created the painting that is the cover of this mix. The original artwork is now hanging behind the bar in the Tiki Lounge. I also want to acknowledge some wonderful musicians who are Tiki friends of mine and landed in this mix: Jay Brooks of Clouseaux, Tony Marsico of The Martini Kings, Michael Bridoux of The Left Arm of Buddha, John Bartley of Five-Eaux, Mark Fontana of The Blue Hawaiians, Jim Bacchi of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge, and all of the other musicians who made Exotica and Lounge music the treasure that we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy listening to this mix as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Aloha!

Here’s the playlist in case you want to see what’s in this mix:

A Panda's Exotica Lounge Playlist

And here’s the link to listen to this playlist on 8tracks:

Tiki Music: Exotica

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Exotica. The term is often misunderstood and confused with erotica, which is a completely different animal. Although it’s sometimes accompanied by scantily-clad dancers, Exotica is really about music. Tiki music.

Like Tiki, Exotica is about escape. It’s a form of music that takes its listeners to a faraway place and time. One could argue that the earliest Exotica music was created by Romantic-era composers, e.g. Ravel’s Bolero and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. There is some merit to this idea, but the term “Exotica” was coined in the mid-20th Century to describe the music of Martin Denny. It’s a style of music heavy on percussion, including many types of drums, keyboards, and vibes. It also can include exotic animal noises, like bird calls and monkey screams, usually created with a human voice. One variant of Exotica, known as Hollywood, added lush arrangements of strings and horns to make the escape even more dramatic.

So, here are the Exotica albums I’ve come to enjoy over the years, covering a broad spectrum of the genre.

Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott Quintette: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (1992). Recorded between 1937-39, the Raymond Scott Quintette’s music sounds as vibrant today as it did 75 years ago. This was the precursor to Exotica: music evocative of a distant and exotic place. Anybody who grew up watching Loony Tunes or Ren & Stimpy would instantly recognize Raymond Scott’s amazing music.

LesBaxter

Les Baxter: Ritual of the Savage (1951). This has been called the most important album of the entire genre. It sounds like a Hollywood movie soundtrack to me. Les Baxter was a pioneer in mixing lush, orchestral music with primitive instruments and vocals, but I prefer the more stripped-down version of Exotica that was soon to follow.

MartinDenny

Martin Denny: Exotica (1957). For my money, this is the greatest Exotica album of all time. Hell, it gave the genre its name! Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village set the standard for everything that followed: a simple arrangement of percussion and animal calls that still manages to transport you to another world.

ArthurLyman

Arthur Lyman: The Legend of Pele (1959). Taking Exotica a step further, Arthur Lyman used his Hawai’ian heritage to focus his musical getaway. On this album named for the goddess of fire and volcanos, he even does a cool version of Scheherazade. If you know of the story of Pele, this is a very appropriate anthem for her.

Tikiyaki

Tikiyaki Orchestra: Aloha, Baby! (2011). These guys from California ushered in an Exotica revival. Their Polynesian theme and Hawaii Five-O references breathed new life into this mature musical style. How many bands do you know with their own airline, resort, and shuttle bus complete with a Mai-Tai bar? Aloha, Baby, indeed!

Ixtahuele

Ìxtahuele: Pagan Rites (2013). Exotica from overseas should not be surprising, and Ìxtahuele from Sweden does not disappoint. Their percussion-heavy sound is directly descended from Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, but their rhythms and melodies are uniquely beautiful. If Thor Heyerdahl and his team of Norwegians could chase Tiki, why not 5 guys from Gothenberg?

ElliotEaston

Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods: Easton Island (2013). Yup, that Elliot Easton, lead guitarist for the ubiquitous rock band, The Cars. Easton Island is his side project making Tiki music, but driven by guitar. This is an unusual move that really works, thank’s to Easton’s clever melodies and homage to a broad range of music, from Surf to Spaghetti Westerns. Let the good times roll!

LeftArmOfBuddha

The Left Arm of Buddha: Exotica Music and Other Savage Stuff! (2013). Another import from across the pond, this time from Belgium. I just saw this group perform at The Hukilau, where they made their American debut. What a show! 8 musicians, 3 dancing girls, 1 wacky fez-wearing emcee with broken English, a video screen playing campy old movie clips, all added up to great Tiki theatre. Shades of Les Baxter and Hollywood, Belgian style!

GolDustLounge

Gold Dust Lounge: Lost Sunset (2014). It’s hard to categorize this band I also just saw for the first time at The Hukilau. Leader Russell Mofsky claims many diverse influences, including Ravel’s Bolero for the title track, Lost Sunset. I hear Arthur Lyman when I play that song. Gold Dust Lounge spans many of the Tiki music genres (and beyond!), but for the purposes of this post, I will declare Exotica.

What amazes me the most about these artists is that they all created original compositions. There are very few covers in Exotica (with Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village one notable exception). With new performers from around the globe playing this diverse style of music, Exotica is in good hands. It is the brightest star in the Tiki galaxy of sound.

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: Epilogue

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Sunday 15Jun14 and Beyond

So Sunday was my fourth and final day at my first-ever Hukilau. Bruce flew out early Sunday morning, so I was on my own for the day until my own flight at 7:50pm. I had a nice big breakfast at the hotel restaurant, then hooked up with my friends Beth Lennon and Cliff Hillis for one last trip over to the Mai-Kai. The last event would be a screening of the final cut of a new Tiki documentary, Plastic Paradise. Before that, we settled in with some drinks in the Molokai Lounge and jammed one more time to the surf stylings of Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays. A Tiki brunch, if you will.

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After watching the movie, we went back to the hotel, where I parted ways with Beth and Cliff for the last time. I had already checked out of my room, so there was nothing left to do but walk around Fort Lauderdale and grab an early dinner before heading back to the airport for my flight home. I didn’t spend much time at the beach on this trip, so it was nice to just chill out, chow on some pizza, and enjoy the ocean before heading home.

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I made it home late Sunday night after an uneventful flight. I was happy to be back with my family, but I’ve really been going through Hukilau withdrawal this week. Work has kept me busy, but I can’t help reminiscing about the good times I had in Fort Lauderdale. I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I first arrived at the Bahia Mar hotel!

imageFortunately, I’ve got a bunch of new Tiki friends on Facebook to help me fill in the gaps. Folks like Gary Evans, the lead guitarist for The Intoxicators! (and The Disasternauts) who I kept running into in the elevator. Jeff Chouinard, a Tiki carver I exchanged stickers with at The Mai-Kai on Saturday night (Surf, Soul, Tiki). Robert Brauchler, the dude in the banana costume onstage with the Disasternauts at the Jetsetter Glo-Glo afterparty Friday night, who took some great pictures from the stage I happened to be in (with his handy-dandy banana cam). Michaël Bridoux, the bandleader of the wonderful Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, whose album I downloaded from their website and have already worn out listening to it all week. These are new friends I’m hoping will help me keep the Tiki spirit alive and well in Bethlehem PA. They’ve already left their mark. Mahalo!

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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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