The Waitiki 7
New Sounds of Exotica (Pass Out Records, 2010)
On their latest recording, New Sounds of Exotica, The Waitiki 7 masterfully recreate the atmosphere of the Exotica sound, the mysterious mood lounge music that was popular in the 1950s-60s and is associated with Polynesian and Hawaiian-themed Tiki bars and restaurants. “It was a huge thing at that time to fly from the West Coast to Hawaii,” explains bassist Randy Wong, the Hawaii-born, classically trained founder of Waitiki 7. “It became the stepping stone to the East. People became genuinely fascinated by these cultures. The war was over, and there was a spirit of real optimism and excitement.”
The key Exotica elements are there: the sounds of jungle birds and mammals, seductive laid back mambo beats and the violin, but the music is not retro at all. The fiery modern Latin rhythms, the infusion of contemporary jazz, the superb vibraphone work and other new arrangements create a renovated Exotica sound.
Current band members are: Randy Wong (double bass), Tim Mayer (soprano sax, flutes), Zaccai Curtis (piano), Abe Lágrimas Jr. (drums, vibraphone), Lopaka Colón (percussion and animal calls), Helen Liu (violin), and Jim Benoit (vibraphone, xylophone). New Sounds of Exotica features an additional vibes player, guest musician Greg Paré.
The tropical animal sounds are an essential ingredient in Exotica. “It’s exciting, and you can’t help but get into it. When Lopaka whoops and howls, he sounds like some marvelous bird, and he’s playing intense percussion parts at the same time,” Wong enthuses. “The birdcalls are a virtuosic element, and they require an acoustic approach to work well. Samples or keyboards can sound so canned. And it really gives the original exotica musicians like Augie their due.”
The band is devoted to the “preservation and resurgence of Exotica music and the related tiki culture.” Waitiki 7 is modeled after the classic groups of Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Gene Rains. The band members are deeply influenced by the inventors of the Exotica genre, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Lex Baxter. Three of the musicians have a direct connection with Exotica pioneers. Abe Lágrimas performed with Denny’s band, Lopaka Colón’s father was Denny’s percussionist and the person that introduced the exotic animals sounds to the genre, and band leader and bassist Randy Wong studied Lyman’s music at a young age since Lyman was a family friend. “We’d be sitting ten feet from the guy and he’d be playing solo vibes and doing birdcalls,” Wong recalls. “It was really otherworldly. I got the sound in my ear, even though I didn’t know it was part of a larger musical thing.”
The Waitiki 7 is a striking new band that has re-energized the Exotica genre on their latest album, New Sounds of Exotica.