The Left Arm Of Buddha
Exotica Music And
Other Savage Stuff! 





The Left Arm Of Buddha are a Belgian octet and exotic orchestra, envisioned and led by guitarist and percussionist Michaël Bridoux who started to carve out his vision in 2011 already. Handpicking musicians who already knew each other via other collectives and who have played together in bands before, The Left Arm Of Buddha, named so after a composition from 1956 by genre luminary Les Baxter, is now complete and ready to benignantly take over the world of Exotica with their debut release, a digital seven-track EP called Exotica Music And Other Savage Stuff!, self-released in August 2013 and available to purchase and fully stream at Bandcamp. The band obviously approaches the Exotica genre from a modern angle, grafting Ska and Rock ingredients onto the otherwise fittingly tropicalized shrubbery made of bongos, congas, mallet instruments, flutes, organs, guitars and saxophones en masse. Exotica, as I tend to say, means many things to even more people, but the band is fully aware of this and tries to meet every demand a listener of that genre could possibly have, without creating a feared mixed bag where coherence and stringency are left alone in the jungle.


The first pleasant surprise and possibly the trend of 2013 is also realized by means of this EP: everything is handmade, there are no synthesizers involved, with the only instrument that comes partially close to a synth being the organ. I for one do not hold a grudge against synthesizers per se, or else I would not review Ambient music too. The magic of pristine Exotica music made of real-world, i.e. physical instruments, however, is something a digitally programmed beat structure with synthetic sitars etc. cannot always live up to. The second pleasant surprise is the inclusion of two Exotica renditions, one of them glaringly obvious, the other cheekily renamed and the one which drew me to The Left Arm Of Buddha back in Spring 2013 during the band’s fine-tuning stages. More about it in a moment.


The personnel consists of said bandleader Michaël Bridoux, tenor and soprano saxophonist David Loos, baritone saxophonist and flutist Nicolas Talbot, mallet instrumentalist Damien Delvaux, bassist Christophe Collignon, pianist and organist Antoine Lafontaine, classic drummer Nicolas Léonard as well as Latin percussionist Pierrot Delor. Do these eight gentlemen and seven tunes succeed? Their burlesque live events with four dancers and Tiki girls sure do, but what about the music itself? I will tell you below. Prepare for fleeting visits to jungles all over the world and the occasional stop at African and Middle Eastern locations. In short: succumb to exótica bélgica!


Still image from The Left Arm Of Buddha's Official Trailer™


A wonderful and outright delightful nod to the post-sunset phase of Exotica kicks off the EP and enchants right from the get-go when Christophe Collignon’s first wonky double bass licks appear. The reason is simple for devoted Exotica aficionados: the opener Jungle Tiger is both a homage to and rendition of Nino Nardini’s and Roger Roger’s Shere Khan off their opus tropicanum called Jungle Obsession (1971). Whereas the original features Space-Age strings en masse, The Left Arm Of Buddha’s echopraxia surprises with helical organ flumes as delivered by Antoine Lafontaine which float around Nicolas Talbot’s ligneous falsetto flute tones. One of the glaring signature elements has luckily survived this interpretation, and that is the sunset-colored Funk guitar twangs which are strummed by Michaël Bridoux. Add Nicolas Léonard’s bongo blebs and conga chaparral to the scenery, and you get a post-millennial celebratory superimposition of erbaceous soils, verdured palm trees and that certain jungle vibe which is further fueled by heftily reverberated B movie samples… that is if you want to call Road To Bali (1952) starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby a B movie.


Shere Khan as well as Jungle Tiger glow in technicolor, but their shady interstices make both pieces, ye olde one and l’interpretation belgique, excitingly danger-evoking and wild. A great opener! The following Spinach & Onions is an entirely different critter, immediately throwing the listening subject into a bustling megacity’s Honky Tonk bar that is supercharged with Antoine Lafontaine’s designedly dirty piano coils and incandescent organ serpentines, all the while saxophonists David Loos and Nicolas Talbot have the times of their lives and interact with the organ shards that are spiky as barbed wire. It is only consequent that the percussion is normalized here and comprises of tambourines and classic drum kit hi-hats rather than their Latin counterparts. Spinach & Onions is a bow to the infamous Belgian Ska scene. Very catchy indeed, and you gotta love the polluted textures of the organ!


Pantera Negra is next and aurally paints another gorgeously dubious, semi-hazardous rain forest awash with twilight, draping all blades and leaves of the flora in sanguinely rufescent colors. This unique composition is a slower mid-tempo brute that schleps itself forward, savoring every moment of its heavily fissured existence. The textural thicket is phantasmagoric and very wide. Damien Delvaux’s ligneous marimba droplets become enmeshed with wobbling mystery chimes, plinking percussion prowess and one of the most mean-spirited saxophone-interspersed basslines the Exotica genre has ever witnessed. There is so much going on in this song that it is hard to describe the magic of each ingredient, but rest assured that the slower tempo allows the listener to fathom out the ambivalent mood and distill all patterns. To name just three great advantages: firstly, the interplay of sound, sustain and silence allows the afterglow of the reverberations to twirl into the distance. Secondly, the simultaneity of nastiness and calcined enigmatic tones ennobles this tune immensely. And finally, the revved up bongo and conga placenta in the middle of Pantera Negra reminds of the tropical location. Said puma is on the run… so beware!


Luckily enough, the band envisions a Middle Eastern setting where pumas are only few and far between. Arabian Twist unites Ska with scarab. Or Arab. The uplifting cymbal-heavy percussion encapsulation is perfectly Occidental and based on Rock sceneries, but wait until you hear the pentatonic snake charmer melody on the organ by Sheikh Antoine al-Lafontaine in unison with the astutely rattling shakers and dark red polyphonic saxophones, and you will feel the dusty heat of a desert town of your choice. The unity of the Occident with the Orient enthralls, even though this is yet another arrangement of guttersnipe-like alcoves and multiplexed shades.


»Sonny, those Belgian hommes may play good aires, but bring me the golden classics of yesteryear, or else…!« Don’t worry grandpa, these guys will serve you well, as they also have an interpretation of Nicholas »Nikos« Roubanis’ Greek Folk song Misirlou in store. And what a stupendously stupefying stampede structure The Left Arm Of Buddha unleash! This is no fast-paced interpretation that causes cardiac arrhytmia à la Dick Dale’s eternal vertiginous Surf take, but a dedicated mimicry of the Golden 50’s that shimmers, glows and is rather tame for the band. Gossamer glissandos on the pianos, a croaking guiro, Pierrot Delor’s woodpecking bongos, quiescent birdcalls, double bass globs and two-note Horror strings (!) in the distance altogether form the base frame for Nicolas Talbot’s Oriental alto flute melodies to shine. Everything feels majestic but by no means histrionic or melodramatic, the simulation of a desert caravan is poignantly realized. Misirlou has been interpreted thousands of times in multitudinous tempos and instrumentations.


The Left Arm Of Buddha do it perfectly right and stay away from their otherwise fitting berserk epitheliums in order to simulate a 50’s Exotica band. More of this on the debut album, please! The take is definitely enlightening and a great counterpart to the brand-new eclecticism of, say, the following Cairo Bazar which provides a vestibule that leads from the desert into a heterodox polyrhythmic market frenzy in which the megalomaniac breakbeat construction is just the tip of the iceberg (and icebergs there are aplenty in Cairo), for as soon as the pointillistic marimba flecks and the Persian flute unite with the sizzling-hot organs and cauterized guitar spirals, the tohubohu is all yours. Short bongo accentuations and inebriated "lalala" aphorisms round off the pandemonium and lead to the finale called Chachoo Cookie, an audible cabaret chock-full of dirty saxophones, another dose of sampled Hollywoodisms, Hammond organ goodness and an overall laissez-faire approach where everything feels even dirtier and smudgier than ever before. Shuttling between the cut-and-paste mannerisms of Norman Cook, the polyhedron tendencies off Tipsy’s Trip Tease (1996) and Crime Jazz-infused big band allusions à la Hugo Montenegro's Bongos And Brass (1960), Chachoo Cookie brings the listener back from the jungle or desert to a glorified state of comradeship.


Exotica is dead in the water… the water of the fountain of youth! The Left Arm Of Buddha have created a convincing EP that is no mere interim step on the Belgians’ path to their first full-length debut or the appearance of the Hukilau 2014 lineup, but a fully fleshed out galimafrée of the band’s styles, witticisms and powerful arrangements. There is much to discover in these seven tracks, and although the runtime is only 17+ minutes which is short even by Exotica standards, this is, after all, a clearly labelled EP and as such meant to showcase the things to come. Vintage Exotica fans will hail the inclusion of Misirlou as the holy grail in terms of its truthful invocation of the 50’s spirit and the wonderfully arranged balance, whereas followers of the French geniuses Nino Nardini and Roger Roger will obey to Jungle Tiger. It is no coincidence that this very tune both inherits and emits the soon-to-be classical idiosyncracies and stylistic particularities – or even peculiarities – of The Left Arm Of Buddha: the synergy of seemingly incompatible moods.


The EP is loaded with contemporaneous circumambience; ferocious basslines conflate with good-natured flute tones, darker jungles are illumined by quasi-ethereal mystery chimes as on Pantera Negra, and Occidental organs orbit over Oriental ornaments. Arabian Twist and Cairo Bazar come to mind. Exotica Music And Other Savage Stuff! offers something for everyone, even though this adage is anything but antediluvian. Exotica is usually a vivacious and more often than not flamboyant genre. The octet begs to differ and injects darker flumes into the paradise-infested plateaus. Prolonged moments of Ska and Rock are as omnipresent as classic drums and all too sparse birdcalls. The sheer manpower of the collective, however, will nurture future surprises. That The Left Arm Of Buddha call themselves an exotic orchestra is only an exaggeration in comparison with the 101 Strings and their 127 instrumentalists, but hey, a flash mob of eight people can bring about the downfall of entire empires. The Left Arm Of Buddha and their Swedish fellows Ìxtahuele showed exactly that in 2013. It is nice to be assured that this is just the beginning. Count me in, I am on board, no jungle is too dark for me. Yet.


Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and fully stream The Left Arm Of Buddha's debut EP at Bandcamp or via the player below.
  • Follow The Left Arm Of Buddha on Twitter: @Leftaobuddha.



Exotica Review 261: The Left Arm Of Buddha – Exotica Music And Other Savage Stuff! (2013). Originally published on Sep. 14, 2013 at