Don Tiki
South Of The Boudoir






South Of The Boudoir is the third album of the world-famous multifaceted Exotica collective called Don Tiki, led by composer Kit Ebersbach and producer Lloyd Kandell and comprising of dozens of skillful musicians and vocalists who are all up for the diversified fun rides the band’s albums provide. And since I am speaking of multifaceted: this album of 2009, released on the band’s own Taboo Records and recorded in Honolulu as usual, is much broader in stylistic terms than their 1997 debut The Forbidden Sounds Of Don Tiki or the 2001 follow-up Skinny Dip With Don Tiki. Exotica and Lounge albums are traditionally accessible, and as expected, South Of The Boudoir falls into that category as well. But the devoted listener will catch a new implicit formula that encompasses the ginormous amount of 14 compositions plus two bonus tracks, all but two of them specifically written and created by Ebersbach and Kandell for this LP.


This very formula comprises of three stylistic ingredients: in roughly equal parts, the expected Polynesian material of the Tropics is flacked by Asian ditties and Middle Eastern flavors. Again, this is no surprise in written form, for all of these styles rightfully belong to the imaginative Exotica genre. But on this album, their influence is much bigger and provides distinctive soundscapes Don Tiki was not known for heretofore; I will talk in greater depth about this in the final paragraph. The big production scope is perceptible within the boundaries of each song, the combo even recorded the Brazilian percussion in another, Los Angeles-based studio. Most of the respective musicians and singers are back on board and lend a helping hand in the process of creating this release. On a very sad note, this is presumably the last full-length release where the lead singer and noble savage stage persona of Delmar DeWilde is featured as long as the band does not release archival material or remixes in the future (such is the case on the festive EP Hot Lava Holiday Songs, released in December 2012). He unexpectedly deceased in August 2012. South Of The Boudoir, in hindsight, is as scintillating and multi-dimensional as his performances and vocal-related moods.


The opener is already a real treat for the biggest of the big Exotica fans, as Friendly Island of the Hawaiian Exotica-Jazz dame Ethel Azama (1934–1984) of Exotic Dreams (1958) fame is presented, but expanded by Don Tiki to include all Hawaiian isles, hence the slightly altered plural title Friendly Islands. Launching with a tropical field recording of chirping birds, it is Hai Jung who takes over Azama’s part and also provides the lead vocals on many other tracks. The rhythmical shifts are still in here, but there is one particular instrument that outshines even the interspersed vibraphone cascades or the softly croaking guiros, and that is Sharene Lum’s harp twangs. They boost the plasticity of this opener to the maximum. Despite its many exotic ingredients, Don Tiki cannot – and due to the prominent use of the piano, deliberately won’t – camouflage the jazzy origins of this piece from a time that is long gone. Since Mrs. Azama had many gigs at bars and supper clubs with Paul Conrad, her pianist and short-lived member of the Gene Rains Group, this tune was particularly tailored to her talents. It thus remains one of Don Tiki’s jazziest renditions.


Those listeners who are more fond of the collective’s crazier cuts do not need to wait any longer: Odd Man Out fires off with an Italo house piano-accentuated bongo-fueled bamboo rod thicket by Lopaka Colón, always oscillating between a sizzling-hot easygoing savoir vivre and a complemental mystique in the form of Noel Okimoto’s marimba droplets. The piano chords sound dusky, and in tandem with the eclectic but accessible percussion aorta, the aura of tension and majesty continually rises. The second phase of the song sees a bold tempo shift. Instead of solemnity, the band moves into gentle jungle territories as depicted with the help of glistening vibes and additional shakers and snares. I particularly like that the melodies are not perfectly carved out. They are not hummable, but the interplay between the instruments works really well.


Speaking of melodies: The band unleashes a saccharine anthem of a carefree lifestyle with the following Turkish Delight, possibly Kit Ebersbach’s most euphonious composition on this album. Right from the get-go does the technicolor-tinged lucency of the friendly atmosphere become apparent: Noel Okimoto’s hummable vibe melody conflates with Sharene Lum’s harp dreaminess, and finally can we catch a glimpse of an organ creek advected by Perry Coma (aka Kit Ebersbach himself) which brings back fond memories of the many organ-related textures and patterns Don Tiki unchained in their 1997 debut. The staccato trait of a tap dancing bongo placenta is put in close adjacency to the increasingly rising Pop glitz. The organs are played in wraithlike regions and the vibes sparkle brighter than ever. Turkish Delight is a feast for the ears, admittedly a tad too syrupy and embracing, but this is what the doctor orders in-between the mysterious junglescapes and jazzy rain forests. T


he Forbidden Finger is – pardon the pun – close at hand and takes the listener back to the be-boping do-whopping bada-boo 60’s era with its rustic piano chords, loungey vibes, hollow bongos, paradisiac flute tones by Jim Howard and onomatopoeic mixed chants that inherit the mentioned spirit of that decade. The mood mediates between a Latin lamento and a more uplifting blitheness, but in the end, the composition can be interpreted as being a cautionary tale about one specific taboo of many, hence its shady dichotomy. While Grace Lane’s Bla Bla Cha Cha features the powerfully husky and luring voice of Sherry Shaoling – proud cover model of South Of The Boudoir – over a piano arrangement which then turns loose into the promised hot-blooded Cha Cha Cha that is nurtured by Rockford Holmes’ dirty saxophone, a staccato harpsichord organ and Noel Okimoto’s Latin marimba spirals, it is the Far Eastern magnificence of Tinfoil Hats that expands the exotique in a glaring fashion thanks to its many coruscating chimes, a Balinese-African marimba clothesline and murky piano bursts. The lacunar structure of this critter allows the bongos and sizzling maracas to shine all the more. The melodies are yet again strangely wonky for Western ears, but the surfaces and timbres of the ensuing mélange are equally sleazy and truly exotic. One favorite of mine.


In Thailand (Yo-Ma-Ma Mix) finds lead singer Jimmy Borges complaining about the weather conditions and societal mishaps – in true Murray Head tradition – next to a quirky city-strolling Big Beat territory full of sun-soaked organ harmonies, tick-tocking clave-infused bongo rhythms and a stylophone-evoking elasticity on the keyboard, and the follow-up Chinatown Bar Cha Cha Cha is not that far away culturally, but presents a whole new world arrangement-wise, with the eternal Delmar DeWilde on a photo safari in a Tango-resembling castanet-ennobled carnivalesque Cha Cha construction full of warbled flutes, downwards spiraling tone sequences of perfervid lunacy and ardent lamentos about a beautiful girl. This particular track is indeed very hammering and quizzical; it inherits that certain style that the band’s sophomore album Skinny Dip With Don Tiki of 2001 showcased in increasing clarity in its last three tracks. This is one for the sleazos.


The following Pussyfooting offers an interesting renovated take on a 40’s swing ballad with a downbeat that schleps itself forward in a repining fashion which is further augmented by square lead organs that seem to have escaped out of an organ panopticon. Dean Taba’s double bass slaps brings back the post-Prohibition era slyness, and the alto flute euphony provides colorful Lounge land sprinkles in this private eye setting. Jungle Julie, in contrast, revs the tempo up decidedly. The band depicts a rain forest scenery with conserved faux-field recordings, a true-to-life bongo groove, a candidly warmhearted majesty of pianos, utterly silkened jungle flutes and a gossamer sitar synth which opalesces through the crevasses of the percussion layer. The mood is joyful, upbeat and provides a bold change to the string of rather experimental tracks that preceded Jungle Julie. Things get even livelier though: the hyper-frantic Billions Of Brazillians is a gargantuan hymn full of Braziliana and Samba traces. Multifaceted organ globs of warmth, muffled but jumpily spiraling marimba blebs and the unison of Delmar DeWilde and Hai Jung let the euphoria rise “in the land of the Amazon.” One of my most-favorite neo-Exotica pieces of all time… watch your pulse!


Pajama Tops remains in Brazilian climes, but couples the luminescent greenery with a metropolitan, slightly quicker downbeat akin to In Thailand (Yo-Ma-Ma Mix). Noel Okimoto’s vibraphone dew melts with Jim Howard’s beautiful flute sequences, and it is once again the transfiguring organ underpinning which elevates the humble pompousness of this composition into higher realms. A good-natured harmony is always perceptible and makes Pajama Tops an almost lachrymose but at the end of the day incandescent Jungle Exotica cut. The Palanquin is next and already reserved by pasha Delmar DeWilde, with a voice-doubling effect applied to his vocals. He is surrounded by a short-lived Oriental field recording of shawms, but eventually bolstered by bongo raindrops and enigmatic piano tones which experience a surprisingly rhapsodical tone shift at the organ-backed climax. But this is just the prologue for the actual apotheosis of the album: Pagan Lust comprises of DeWilde’s fissure-laden staccato warning of the legendary drink of the same name. Star Kalahiki is part of the female backing choir which is actually the only soothing ingredient of this highly nervous breakdown. Sunlit vibes and marimbas might be mild-mannered ingredients, but they are almost swallowed by the ever-changing dynamics of the drum kit, the clarion klaxonphone played by Rockford Holmes and the quavering organ maelstrom in the background. “Whatever you do, don’t drink.” Luckily enough, this plea only applies to the dangerous Pagan Lust cocktail.


While this composition is the outro of South Of The Boudoir, two long bonus tracks flank the Latinized jungle potpourri. The nine-minute (!) dreamscape called Rapture Of The Deep is an aquatic percussion-backed Ambient track of the ethereal kind which not only completely breaks with the intrinsic soundscape, but the whole wealth of material Don Tiki has delivered in their long-lasting career. Ring modulated voices, bubbling carbonic acid, blue-tinted synth washes and glorious Space-Age synth strings create an enthrallingly rapturous ocean of bliss. The entanglement of reverb, decay and sustain make this a successful experiment. Exotica listeners might shake their heads at first, but since this track is even exotic by the band’s standards, I do not see anything wrong with it, but fully embrace it. That I am also a reviewer of Ambient works might come in handy, but is undoubtedly non-essential for submerging into this aquascape. The very final track is Delmar’s Deluxe Mix of In Thailand. To be honest, I do not spot any major difference. DeWilde’s mix is crunchier, punchier, the attack rate of the organs feels fuller, the energy of the shakers seems to be stronger, and there is an infinitesimally different intro and outro phase, but that’s about it. Definitely non-essential. A true bonus track.


South Of The Boudoir is Don Tiki’s sleaziest and loungiest album. And yet is the Exotica factor huge and recompenses each and every fan who might be a bit bewildered about the many darker Latinisms that are found on this album, be it the occasionally staggering piano tercets, the unexpectedly convoluted melodies or the downbeat fundament which frames many of Kit Ebersbach’s and Lloyd Kandell’s laid-back productions. Heavier piano chords have been featured on each of the collective’s albums heretofore, but they seem to have lost a bit of their innocent grace and jocular vivacity. Which is by no means wrong, but simply the result of a shift in style. These shadier Crime Jazz-evoking tones are further boosted by Middle Eastern scents that are interwoven into many of the compositions. But be it as it may, South Of The Boudoir – despite its Tijuana-ized allusion – bases indeed on three columns, namely the Far East, the Orient and the Polynesian realms, as stated in the opening paragraph. So even though there is a perceived heaviness, lots of counterarguments are scattered few and far between.


Be it the jazzy and faithful nod to Ethel Azama’s Friendly Island or the sugar-coated bedazzling catchiness that is Turkish Delight, Don Tiki’s third album proves to be the charm as well. Due to its tripartite arc, however, it is definitely harder to bridge the gaps between the various Exotica styles and the habits of contemporary listeners, as everyone has his favorite Exotica niche. I know I do. But the band is able to mediate and intercede between them. Give Don Tiki an educational mandate, I say! Besides, let me not forget the pieces of evidence for the threefold style-related base frame of South Of The Boudoir: there is a Far Eastern triptych comprising of the magnanimously percussionized opus Tinfoil Hats, the wonkily combing In Thailand and the ensuing finale Chinatown Bar Cha Cha Cha on the one hand… and a synergetic Brazilian-Polynesian threefold counterpart including the thermal heat-injecting duo flutes in Jungle Julie, the Sambalero anthem Billions Of Brazilians and the paradisiac gemstone of gleefulness called Pajama Tops on the other hand.


Poly-, Indo-, Micro- and Melanesia always had their Latin and Far Eastern competitors scattered on every of the collective's albums, but here their impact is both widened and condensed. Such being the case, you possibly cannot love all compositions equally. But the great percussion layers and instrument-related textures help tremendously to even feast on the more complex or whimsical melodies. In my opinion, South Of The Boudoir as a whole begs for a skilled Exotica listener – whoever that might be – and is much more rustic, intricate and sophisticated, but hey, there goes the threatening Easy Listening label of blandness so many people clamp to the genre. As I have stated in the opening paragraph, it is another fun ride, a sleazier and shadier one, but a great testimony to the far reaching genre called Exotica.


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Exotica Review 159: Don Tiki – South Of The Boudoir (2009). Originally published on Dec. 15, 2012 at