Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Exotica is a musical genre, named for the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title, popular during the late 1950's to mid 1960's typically with the middle aged suburban set who came of age during World War II. The musical colloquialism exotica means very precisely tropical ersatz: the non-native, pseudo experience of Oceana (Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Southeast Asia). The principal advocates of this style tended to be Hawaiian, probably because of the remove from mainland music. While the South Seas forms the core region, exotica reflects the "musical impressions" of every place from standard travel destinations to the mythical "shangri-las" dreamed by armchair safari-ers.

Les Baxterís album, Ritual of the Savage (Le Sacre du Sauvage), would become the cornerstone of Exotica. This album featured lush orchestral arrangements along with tribal rhythms and featured such classics as "Quiet Village", "Jungle River Boat", "Love Dance", and "Stone God." Ritual is the seminal Exotica record, influencing all that came after it.

As the Fifties progressed, Baxter carved out a niche in this area, producing titles in this style for Yma Sumac and Bas Sheva, in addition to continuing to record in the "jungle" style as well as more traditional ones (evidenced by his 1956 #1 pop hit "Poor People of Paris").

In 1956, Martin Denny burst on to the scene with his dreamy Hawaiian rhythms complete with exotic birdcalls. The new technology of stereo recording gave the music, and the oriental ethnic instruments in it, an almost surreal effect. After forming his band in 1955, Denny produced his first album Exotica featuring himself on the piano, Arthur Lyman on vibes, Augie Colon on percussion and birdcalls, and John Kramer on string bass. In 1957, Denny and composer Lex Baxter produced "Quiet Village" which soon topped the charts and defined what Polynesian music was all about. After a string of successful albums Denny's commercial appeal faded and by the mid 60's Rock and Roll supplanted Exotica in the American musical mainstream. Interestingly enough, Exotica and its parent genre Lounge, have resurfaced and have gained in popularity in recent years.

Exotica relies on percussion: conga, bongos, vibes, gongs, boo bams (bamboo sticks), Tahitian log, Chinese bell tree, bird calls, big-cat roars, and even primate shrieks invoke the dangers of the jungle. Except for a handful of singers and standards with lyrics, singing is rare. Abstract, sirenish ululations, fierce chants, or guttural growls are common, however.