Last winter, and throughout much of the year, I was under a lot of stress. I felt the need to look for something that would bring some calm, tranquil serenity to my life. At first, I was planning a backyard entertainment area (that never made it off the ground, er, so to speak). Some of my online searches included “Tiki bars” and “tropical party music.” Originally I was looking for music to play in my backyard, if we had the chance to host a party out there. However, by combining some of my searches I stumbled upon a podcast called Exotic Tiki Island. When I listened to it, I found it not only enjoyable, but helpful in smoothing out the stress of my day. Moreover, the host of the show, Tiki Brian, describes fictional explorations and adventures in lush tropical landscapes. I felt as if I had really gotten away from it all. I may have been stuck indoors during a cold New York winter, but listening to the podcast made me feel like I’d been transported away to a place even better than the backyard party area I had planned.
The Exotic Tiki Island podcast strikes a fun balance between the old radio plays from the early to mid mid-20th century and a straight music show. In addition to playing music from Tiki Brian’s large collection of exotica music on vinyl, the podcast also features narration or dialog taken from movies, television, Disney records, and old radio advertisements for Hawaiian, Polynesian, and South Seas travel. As tour guide, Tiki Brian ties it all together by taking his visitors to such places as the Main Beach, the Bamboo Bar, the Hurricane Hut Lounge, the Virgin Volcano, the Enchanted Falls, Exotic Orchid Cove, Voodoo Peak, and the Forgotten Lagoon. Usually there is a stop somewhere along the way to enjoy a Mai Tai.
Most of the music is by artists like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter, but you’ll also hear a mix of old and new exotica (which takes inspiration from tropical music and uses it impressionistically), surf rock, Latin music, mid-century Hollywood songs, and some genuine Hawaiian and other Polynesian music.
Show four features a sequence in which Tiki Brian mixes between Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise soundtrack and a great set of selections from Martin Denny and Les Baxter. Show seven takes us into the future of exotica music, playing tracks by more current artists such as Don Tiki, the Tiki Tones, and even current electronica DJ artists who have done remixes of the older classics.
Tiki Brian also does some episodes that keep the Tiki theme current through the seasons and holidays. Show ten is a fun Halloween episode, featuring sound bites from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, Disney’s famous “Thrilling, Chilling Sounds Of the Haunted House” album, and such TV shows as Dark Shadows and The Munsters. The music in this episode features more percussion for a Voodoo vibe or the electric guitar sound you might associate with a late fifties or early sixties mystery, monster, or beach movie. The epitome of that sound is “Monster Surf Boogie” by the Donut Kings.
Show twelve is the Christmas episode. My wife was concerned that tropical music wouldn’t seem Christmassy. However she was delighted when she heard some of the tracks, as they brought freshness to the experience. “White Christmas” with a Hawaiian instrumentation actually works; it’s probably the one time when you can imagine being on a tropical island, but having a longing for snow. “Santa Party” has kid appeal; “Hawaiian Santa” has kitsch appeal. There were so many fun, creative selections that it’s hard to narrow down the list. The Hit Crew perform “Up On The House Top” with xylophone and bongos. “Jingle Bells” by the Surfers is fast-paced with a rhythm that feels bossa nova. “Frosty Snowman” is an instrumental surfer guitar version by the Ventures. “Winter Wonderland” by Arthur Lyman features a xylophone and a few words in Spanish. Another version of “Winter Wonderland” by the Surfers opens a cappella and then goes to very upbeat bongos and guitars. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” by Brent Lewis uses lots of percussion and has a slow, primal, almost sexual rhythm. “Christmas In De Tropics” is a very sweet song that paints a beautiful portrait of what a traditional Christmases is for those who don’t live in colder North American climates. Unlike other episodes Tiki Brian does not act as the host throughout the entire episode. Instead he provides an introduction which sets us up for a Christmas party on the island. Between the songs we can hear people talking and laughing and having fun. Tiki Brian returns at the end to close out the episode by thanking his listeners for the year.
Show thirteen, the most recent, mixes the Disneyland Enchanted Tiki Room soundtrack with exotica music selections. My sons liked this episode not only because it reminded them of their vacations at Disney World, but because they also learned about some of the Polynesian gods (who are prominently featured in the Disneyland line queue.)
Listening to the Exotic Tiki Island podcast added fuel to the spark of my interest in Tiki culture. I’d love to do some travelling to some of the tiki bars and restaurants across America. I want to attend one of the Tiki events, such as Ohana Luau at the Lake at the Tiki Resort in Lake George, NY. I’d love even more to go on a Hawaiian vacation (I did record and show my sons the famous Brady Bunch episodes). And, yes, I would still love to carve out a small Tiki garden with torches and a bar somewhere in my backyard.
So head on over to Tiki Brian’s website and take a listen to the Exotic Tiki Island podcast. And should you catch the bug and become as obsessed as me, the site also features an online store where you can buy vintage vinyl, clothing, and decor including a wide selection of Tiki mugs, perfect for that Mai Tai.