Category: Music
Tiki Month 2015

Tiki Music: The Ukulele


A little background music while you read this post.
I've been on a little bit of a ukulele music kick lately. I was kicking around the web back in January, looking for material for the Tiki culture portion of Tiki Month and ran across an nice article in The Atlantic entitled The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Ukulele. It is an excellent little history of the ukulele in American pop culture, and well worth a read. The word "Tiki" doesn't actually appear in the article, and mentioning that is a good way to note that while they are often connected, the ukulele is not at all exclusively a Tiki music instrument (especially of late). I'll just focus on the fact that the arc of the ukulele's popularity closely matches that of Tiki culture in general, and for much the same reasons. In broad strokes, the ukulele (in its Hawaiian-perfected form) first came to mainstream attention in the early 20th Century, before the invention of Tiki. With its exotic origins and ease of play, the ukulele was a fun and easy way to transport yourself through imagination to exotic lands, just like the Tiki culture which followed and adopted the uke. By the 1950's, the instrument was huge, reaching a peak of popularity, with nearly one and three-quarter million ukulele players in the US alone. If your image of the ukulele is of ridiculous nerd Tiny Tim, "tiptoeing through the tulips", remember that Elvis's ukulele soundtrack from Blue Hawaii was number one for five months.
Elvis played the ukulele. Your argument is invalid.
But with the 60's, the culture started to move on. The Beatles, with their big, sexy, throbbing guitars made the little ukulele seem childish. Also, I imagine that the burgeoning of the recorded music industry hurt the ukulele too. One of its chief draws is how easy it is to learn and to play this little guy. As technology made it less and less important for people to be able to make their own music, instruments whose leading draw was their ease of play lost a lot of their market edge. Besides, if you liked a piece of ukulele music, there was the mortal risk that your Dad might whip his out and try to play it!

OF course, if your step-dad is The Rock, that douchebag Steve who wants to mock you for his playing the ukulele will probably think better of it.... (Journey 2 the Mysterious Island)
Among the frustrations I've experienced recently is the discovery that The Rock—The Freakin' Rock!—has a better voice than I do.... Eventually, like other aspects of Tiki culture, the ukulele was virtually forgotten by pop culture. This paved the way for its revival, as its cultural baggage lost its potency. The things that made it popular to begin with remain true, of course. It is easy to play. It is versatile. It is just intrinsically fun. Again, just like other elements of Tiki culture, the ukulele's revival comes in a form more integrated with mainstream culture. The web is rife with ukulele covers of distinctly non-tropical music. And the thing is, they work. Sometime when you are definitely not at work, listen to this semi-perfect cover of Cee Lo Green's most famous hit. (No really, it is not the radio version!) Of course, as Tiki culture in its purer forms makes its boutique, and hopefully sustainable comeback, the ukulele is still a staple for musicians such as Don Tiki. Search around for ukulele music. You'll like it. And if you have the least musical inclination, whether you want a first instrument or you are a musician who'd be interested in an easy extra to pick up, consider a ukulele. You can get a Starter Ukulele, with extra strings, case, and introductory instruction book from Amazon for $32.50. And that's a Prime Eligible price. I bought one shortly before posting this. And yes, I am aware I just reduced the chance that anyone who reads this will risk visiting my home in the future.... abc
Tiki Month 2012

Tiki Podcasts

At this point in Tiki Month, I think it appropriate to discuss one of the many legacies of the late Steve Jobs: The podcast. Sure, he didn't invent it, but he didn't invent the MP3 player, the personal computer, or digital music downloads either. He just made them workable and/or legally reasonable for white-bread Americans like me. I am not a huge podcast guy, but there is one activity I do a lot of that is conducive to listening to podcasts. You see, if I don't mow my grass every couple of days in the Summer, full-grown deer can hide it in with no trouble. Having a lawn in Ohio is a constant fight to keep your house visible from the street. Thus, every few days, I mount my mighty steed and do battle with the bluegrass besieging my home on all sides. I thus have plenty of time to listen to things over my noise-cancelling headphones whilst Blade-Biter and I do battle with the green horde, and I fill that time with podcasts. Two of my usual favorites are the Ricochet Podcast (Warning: Includes conservative screenwriters, columnists, and others who often use the term "RINO", as well as the occasional Pat Sajak. This makes it obviously a broadcast of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy™) and How to do Everything (WARNING: A production of National Public Radio, and thus obviously a broadcast of the International Communist Conspiracy®). Both make me laugh, but they aren't enough to get me through all the grass. I've put together a few podcast suggestions for you that are appropriate to Tiki Month, some of which I've known for a long time, others that are new to me, but are ready on my computer for when the Spring comes. Listen to them when you like. I'll start with a few Tiki music-oriented audio podcasts: I'll start with Brian Cooper's Exotic Tiki Island Podcast. This is a brand-new one that features music from Brian's own collection of vintage exotica on LP. The sound quality of the music is exceptional for vintage vinyl, and the music is great. He doesn't talk a lot, but he does throw in some other stuff between songs, including some vintage, Tiki-themed advertisements. As I write this, there are only four episodes, but the latest one is less than a week old, so I expect more content to come. The Zen Tiki Lounge Podcast is another fairly new effort. It is more of a chat show with lots of music. In between the music there is a lot of banter and some good discussion about Tiki drinks in addition to Tiki Music. It also has been a very regular producer of new podcasts over its still short history. The companion website has episode summaries and any food or drink recipes discussed during each. The Quiet Village Podcast, from Digitiki is inexplicably not directly available through the iTunes store, but iTunes users can still subscribe manually, as I have. I think that this one is the best of the batch. Digitiki himself is a member of one of the very best exotica bands out there today, the Tikiyaki Orchestra. As of last week, there have been forty five episodes of The Quiet Village, an extraordinray number. The podcasts have become less frequent of late, but Digitiki is to be forgiven since he recently spawned a child or something. Each episode features lots of cool music and very detailed, interesting discussion about most every song played. There is usually a guest for him to talk with about the subject matter as well. While most of the one hour podcasts center on Tiki-style music, he does go slightly away for some thematically close stuff. His two-part podcast retrospective on James Bond music is simply awesome for even the casual Bond fan. The production values and Digitiki's voice on this podcast are utterly professional, better frankly than most such programs I've heard on places like NPR or Pacifica. If you like Tiki music at all, you need to check out this podcast for a sea of music you simply will not be able to hear anywhere, much less buy. Podcasts also come in video as well. The very first one I ever subscribed to, video or otherwise, was the late, much lamented TikiBarTV. Come back to us, Lala! OK, you can bring back Dr. Tiki and Johnny Johnny if you must.... Tiki Bar TV is a must watch, even if you don't give a damn about Tiki. The Velveteen Lounge Kitschen video podcast is genius. A dead-pan retro housewife (Kelly Camille Patterson) first mixes up a decent-sounding cocktail, Tiki or otherwise, then produces a somehow appetizing-sounding dish straight from what ought to be the darkest culinary days of 1959.... I may actually go buy some SPAM. The podcast is not 100% Tiki, but it is definitely of a piece with the era. If you don't want to subscribe to the podcast, the whole series (34 episodes so far) is available on YouTube as well. I'll wrap up this survey by embedding the episode A Lovely Luau With SPAM. abc
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