Don Tiki – The natives are restless tonight …
What is a tiki? Or rather, ‘Tiki’? In central and eastern Polynesian cultures, a ‘tiki’ is a large humanoid carving. (Experts will ask you to note that the word has not been recorded in the languages of western Polynesia. The exact significance, or indeed insignificance, of this is not known). ‘Tiki’ however is a different kettle of fish. ‘A ‘projection of a Polynesian paradise’, said one po-faced pop-cultural pundit, perfectly persuaded by the power of alliteration, in reference to this small but perfectly formed genre of popular music. Formerly archaic, but now once more in the ascendant, the champions of today’s Tiki scene are the redoubtable Don Tiki. But first, a little background …
The birth of ‘Tiki’ was a combination of history and accident. American soldiers returning from the South Pacific after World War II brought ‘exotic’ stories and souvenirs with them, and the nation seized upon Polynesian culture filtered through American sensibilities. ‘Tales of the South Pacific’, the Pulitzer prize-winning novel by James Michener, stoked the fires of interest. When the book was later adapted for the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘South Pacific’, the country became a conflagration of co-opted cultural colonialism.
The zenith of this cultural confusion was the music of Martin Denny. A classical pianist who, at an early age, became fascinated with Latin rhythms, he was performing in Honolulu with his combo, accompanied by a chorus of bullfrogs. When the band reached the end of their tune, so did the bullfrogs. Imagining it to be a coincidence, Denny was surprised to find that the same thing happened at the end of every song. The band joined in the gay fun, adding their own tropical bird calls in support of their ranine accompaniment. To their surprise, the following night they were asked to ‘do the frog and bird song’ and, like any reasonable but impoverished musician with a band to pay, Denny seized upon the request and transformed it into a song, using a guiro to perform the frog parts. Then he transformed it into a series of songs, and then into an album which went to Top 2 in the American Charts (1959). Inspired, he refined his work into an album which went to Top 1 in the American charts – at one point he had four albums simultaneously in the Billboard Top 20. The ‘exotica’ genre was born, and was not going away any time soon.
Martin Denny died (possibly of overwork, having recorded 39 albums during his lifetime) in 2005, but not before he had metaphorically, and perhaps also literally, passed on the Tiki baton to Don Tiki.
Don Tiki is a latter-day reincarnation of the Tiki ethic. Denny contributed to their recordings (specifically ‘The Forbidden Sounds of Don Tiki’, 1997) and also appeared on stage with them in the late Nineties, at the age of 92. Lloyd Kandell (aka Fluid Floyd) and Kit Ebersbach (aka Perry Coma) created Don Tiki 10 years ago. Their intention? To become ‘the Steely Dan of lounge music’. Conceived as a recording project, their absurd imaginary world came to life when they expanded into live performances. Honouring the heritage of Martin Denny, the denizens of ‘Don Tiki’s Tropical Inferno’ bring you their invented world of tropical fantasy.
Adding dancers, exotic costumes and some of Hawaii‘s finest musicians, they recreate ‘The Road to Bali’ before your astonished eyes and unbelieving ears. With ten musicians and six dancers, they reinvent ‘exotica’ as Modern Exotica and it, too, is here to stay. A blend of jaunty jungle rhythms seasoned (and occasionally stuffed) with samba and saudade, their live performance is an outrageous, determinedly politically-incorrect, voyage into the absurd aspects of globalised culture, accompanied by curvaceous belly dancers, sinuous choreography and endless cocktails. Tunes which will titillate include ‘Bwana Bwana’, ‘Barbi in Bali’, ‘Da T´ing He Grow’ and ‘Wet Cave’. With a bit of luck, they will also include their evergreen ‘The Natives are Restless Tonight’.
Don Tiki’s influences, according to them, include Don Cherry, Don Fagen, Don King, Don Quixote and Don Duck. And also Carl Barks, but it is unclear whether they are really influenced by him, or whether they just added his name for effect.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Summer Open Air Festival
(10 July 08 - 27 July 08)