Kahuna Kawentzmann
Tiki Traveling






Neo-Exotica, thank the Tiki gods, is now deemed old and established enough to not just pay homage to or reference the vintage genre-related works of the 50’s and 60’s. New works are created that mesh the coolness of the Surf Rock genre with shedloads of exotic percussion instruments and hence concoct a particularly adventurous aura, in fact so much so that the surf-related poignancy is diminished to anything but the slightest sliver. This might not have been the original intention of Berlin-based Sebastian Hartmann aka Kahuna Kawentzmann, but it is what he has accomplished with his rather short but all the more gorgeous eight-track opus called Tiki Traveling With Kahuna Kawentzmann, his second solo album overall, self-released in 2005, featured on the DVD documentary Armchair Travelling In The World Of Tiki and readily available in digital download stores as well as the artist's own store.


Going all-in on the Exotica craze of the Golden 50's, Kahuna Kawentzmann puts the focus away from his beloved surf guitars in favor of a huge amount of exotic drums, soothing flutes, staggering piano chords and Space-Age rem(a)inders. The Surf Rock feeling is still prominently interwoven, but the guitars are most of the time used to paint or underline a certain mood rather than for the delivery of catchy riffs. Tiki Traveling even features scattered chants and field recordings. Grandeur, enigma and aural cinematography are scattered all over the short course of just 22 minutes and a few seconds, but this short opus deserves any attention it can get in retrospect. I am probably so overly fond of it due to its dreaminess. The actual melodic delineations are as important as the textures which altogether make up a languorous feast. The travelog aspect is all over this work, the scents of adventure and potentially dangerous mayhems are in the air. The album is never completely lullifying or mellow. A certain degree of mild-mannered malevolence or shadiness is ubiquitously perceptible, and this is what sets this album apart from the rose-tinted carefree vintage material and even later works that appeared in this millennium. So without further ado, here is a closer look at Tiki Traveling With Kahuna Kawentzmann.


An abyssal antrum-suggesting bass burst, the blurry reverberation of bamboo rods in the distance, a sudden spy theme-evoking two-note motif on a surf guitar in tandem with a paradisiac alto flute: welcome to the gorgeously laid back mystique of Have Tiki, Will Travel. While Kahuna Kawentzmann is known for his Surf Rock anthems and transformations, this opener is a refreshingly retrogressive cinematic take on neo-Exotica. Timpanis, kettle drums, croaking shakers and piano droplets round off the luring interplay of both the flute and the surf guitar. Everything remains majestically solemn, the deep piano chords massage the belly while far-away jungle birds chirp convivially. What I like so tremendously much about this opener is its utter isolation and its missing focus. It just meanders along, there is no particularly catchy riff (despite the artist's skills regarding advertisement jingles), it is much more about the presentation of sound, sustain and silence as well as the entanglement of the various textures and surfaces. There is furthermore mo specific climax, no poignant conclusion… and this is what turns this tune into a hammock-friendly reverie. An essential favorite of mine in terms of dreamy Exotica. The insinuated uneasiness is just the icing on the cake and carves out the travelog arc of this album all the better. A gargantuan tune!


The following Passage To Papeete revs up the tempo as it oscillates between a hot-blooded Latin bodega critter full of clicking castanets and Flamenco guitars, and a Space-Age spy lounge scheme loaded with glistening vibraphones, warped steel guitars, Asian claves and a guy humming along to the rising and falling tone sequences. This is proper Braziliana for the ears, and yet again is the feeling of wideness omnipresent thanks to the magnanimous amounts of reverb and hall, also incidentally one of the essential ingredients of Jim Bacchi’s only one-man Tikiyaki Orchestra album StereoExotique from 2007. Say what you will about this post-processing effect, but it adds an unreal veil of mystique to an already exotic track and augments the feeling of adventure and tension splendidly. The warped glissando of the reoccurring guitar spark marries the Brazilian touch with a slick Hawaiian style.


Tiki Traveling Theme is built on a remarkable plasticity: bone-crushing piano chords roll like acroamatic thunders over the Steppe, the vibraphone is much more upfront, short glockenspiel injections, Balearic guitar strings as well as creaking guiros and wind chimes allow the listener to orbit around the highest highs and deepest lows. But the real deal is the magnificent downwards-spiraling Far Eastern tone sequence on the vibes and the piano. After its emerald-green appearance, the downbeat structure allows for a color shift and moves into a sunset-soaked desperado loneliness that is interpolated by a singing Space-Age chantress in the veins of Sally Terri, the voice of Robert Drasnin’s Voodoo! (1959). A frantic conga groove spectrally permeates the melancholic panorama from the background and may well be the most superb inclusion of an already densely layered arrangement.


Up next is the sleazy hollowness of Kava Village, a percussion-driven track full of guiros, goblet drums, claves, congas and frightening timpani. The stereo effect is especially noteworthy, as are both the intimidating rise of the drums and their earth-shaking punchiness. Now if only Chaino would grunt a few words to this humongous vista the village provides. It is another huge hit dedicated to neo-primeval bachelors. And you can run and jog to it as well. The uneasiness of this composition induces the fear of cannibals hidden in the surrounding bushes, waiting for their turn to strike and capture their victims. Yes, the Natives are indeed restless tonight.


Fatu Hiva remains close to Kava Village percussion-wise, but Kahuna Kawentzmann unleashes melodies in adjacency to the drums. An aqueous xylophone is intertwined with a jungular flute melody, bass guitar blebs and the well-known endemic deep piano chords. The second part of this tune sees a comparatively classic rhythm in juxtaposition to galactosamine purple-tinged synth strings. If you listen closely, you spot the small nuances and ornaments like glinting triangles or twinkling tambourins that make the soundscape so lush and complete. The Rock-inspired bassline is memorable and even hummable, an attribute that is unique to this track. Not much sunshine is to be found on this track either, but its pre-nocturnal aura is equally great! While the dichotomous West Of Fiji surprises with its soothing faux-field recording of an afternoon in a tropical jungle which serves as a backdrop for the many elastic-acidic Far Eastern fret guitar slaps and their huge attack rate, tick-tocking bongos, sizzling hot lava organs and plinking vibraphones in-between an equally unexpected metropolitan city-strolling beat of utter coolness and independence, the following centerpiece of almost five minutes called


Three Taboos Of Forgotten Island launches with a Chinese gong and a polyphonous-quavering guitar-related warmth that has not been featured on Tiki Traveling heretofore. It is actually a Surf Rock anthem, but disguised as an Exotica piece due to its snarling guiros, enchanting wind chimes and the neon lucency of its high-rise gelid melody. The synergetic effects of surf ingredients and exotic flecks form a golden-shimmering cocktail with the smell of freedom and contemplative isolation all over it. The cinematic superimposition and the bits of steel guitar Hawaiiana at the end make this tune only grander. Top-notch! The closer Tiki Traveling Twist resurrects the bongo placentas for the last time in the first (and obviously final) clear cut Surf Rock hymn. A gleaming rhythm guitar accompanies the darker surf guitar, a further desperado pattern is unleashed in the middle of the track. The exoticized sounds of the Aqua Velvetseponymous debut (1992) come to mind. It is a melodious closer of a hugely exotic little album.


22+ minutes of bliss. A soundscape that is lush, potentially danger-evoking and first and foremost vibrant. A much greater focus lies on the atmosphere than on a potential danceability. This is Tiki Traveling With Kahuna Kawentzmann. Each of the eight tunes is a hit, but it is the atmosphere that towers above these hits that makes the album even better, be it the dreamscape suprème that is the opener Have Tiki, Will Travel, the percussion-only tribal impetus of the ritualistic Kava Village, or the more Surf Rock-related tracks near its end. The crisp shortness of the album is a boon, as there is always room for escapism. A longer album would probably not provide this effect in the same way. The sound quality is gorgeous, the echoey hall effects might not be everyone's cup of tea, but expand the loneliness and dreamy state of this highly personal journey.


Whereas the first album by The Tikiyaki Orchestra goes Pop all the way, Kahuna Kawentzmann's offering not only precedes their album by about four years, but does deliberately reside in atmospheric Avantgarde realms. Apart from this distinction, the albums are surprisingly similar to each other, so fans of Jim Bacchi's band should definitely check the specific flavor of Tiki Traveling out. I usually play this album when I am contemplating and thinking, as its Ambient factor is huge. In addition, I have to again stress the wide range of instruments found on this release, all played by the tiki traveler himself. Tiki Traveling is more of a concept album than just a collection of hit material, so for this fact alone it should at least be acknowledged. You owe it to yourself to pre-listen to the tracks, and I sincerely hope that you won't be disappointed. Recommended to the maximum!


Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase the album directly from Kahuna Kawentzmann's store – where you can also listen to a faux-vinyl version of Tiki Traveling full of crackles and pops – or fetch it on iTunes and Amazon.
  • Follow Kahuna Kawentzmann on Twitter: @Kawentzmann.


Exotica Review 180: Kahuna Kawentzmann – Tiki Traveling (2005). Originally published on Feb. 9, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.