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"And yet the very density of the network of global communication, the very accessibility of foreign lands, directly or indirectly, intensified the confrontation and the intermingling of the western and exotic worlds."-- The Age of Empire (1987) by E. J. Hobsbawm

"Erotica and exotica are close, not just semantically, but in their promise of a life less ordinary, detached from the libido suppression of reality, responsibility, rationality and 'civilization', hitched instead to a hopeless belief in the free physicality of primitivism." --Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes in a Real World (1999) by David Toop, p.77

"Today, when exotica gets discussed, it's invariably the music of Les Baxter, Yma Sumac, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. These are figurehead artists of the '50s and '60s space-age generation: Baxter the magus of lush jungle tone poems, Lyman and Denny the cool-toned Polynesian jazz exponents, Sumac the mysterious, ululating chanteuse of the Andes. Among them, hit singles like "Quiet Village," "Taboo" and "Virgin of the Sun God" exemplified the postwar exotica phenomenon, the matching albums and album covers - lurid displays of color and flesh - encapsulating a dark continent fantasia that wound its way to millions of Middle American console turntables." The Exotica Project [1]

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Exotica is a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title, popular during the late 1950s to mid 1960s, typically with the suburban set who came of age during World War II. The musical colloquialism, exotica, means tropical ersatz: the non-native, pseudo experience of Oceania (Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Southeast Asia, and especially Hawaii). 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" dreamt of by armchair safari-ers.



Les Baxter's album Ritual of the Savage (Le Sacre du Sauvage) was released in 1952 and would become the cornerstone of exotica. This album featured lush orchestral arrangements along with tribal rhythms and offered 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 1950s progressed, Baxter carved out a niche in this area, producing titles in this style for Yma Sumac and Bas Sheva.

In 1956 Martin Denny burst on to the scene with his dreamy Hawaiian rhythms, complete with exotic bird calls. The Oriental and ethnic musical instruments which he favored gave his approach an almost surreal effect. In 1957, Denny, with Les Baxter as composer, produced the "Quiet Village", which established the sound of the Polynesian styled music. Soon the new technology of stereo further opened up the musical palettes of Denny and other prominent exotica artists such as Arthur Lyman and Juan García Esquivel. After several years of number one albums, exotica's commercial appeal faded, just as the Tiki fad waned. By the mid-1960s, rock and roll supplanted exotica's popularity.

The distinctive sound of 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. Though there are some standards which contain lyrics, singing is rare. Abstract, sirenish ululations, chants, vocalized animal calls, and guttural growls are common.


In the 1990s exotica resurfaced, along with a new category in which to place the genre: lounge. The revival accompanied a related swing revival and general appreciation for tiki culture. A new crop of bands were influenced by the classic albums, and Combustible Edison for one featured songs like "Breakfast at Denny's", a tongue-in-cheek title for a song styled on the music of Martin Denny.

Origin of the term

According to a 1960 promotional EP designed and distributed by Liberty Records for Liberty shareholders, David Seville (of Chipmunks fame), a composer/producer on Liberty, told Julie London that the term "exotica" was coined by Simon "Si" Waronker, Liberty Records co-founder and, at the time, board chairman.

In 1955 Waronker wanted to find a term that would capture the spirit, and also perhaps, help to sell such music as was in Liberty's best interest, considering they had just signed Martin Denny, who was producing and recording this kind of exotic music for his first album with Liberty. This story has it that Si was doodling and had written down the word "exotic" on his pad of paper when he casually added an "a" to the end of the word and the rest is history. He liked the sound of it so much that it went on to become the title of Denny's first album on the Liberty label.

Thus, it may be true to say that no one actually invented the musical genre known as exotica, though Baxter and Denny contributed in its evolution and carrying its musical appeal to hungry ears around the world; while on the marketing and linguistic end of things, Waronker certainly found a brilliantly suiting term that has stuck since 1957.

See also

Exotica itself is highly indebted to and reminiscent of the earlier impressionist movement.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Exotica" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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