Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Desk Top Tiki Party

It's a "meh" day. Gray and wet, construction going on outside: I don't want to be at my desk but don't really know where else to go. To lighten my mood, I'm plugged into my Exotica station on Pandora.

Exotica is a genre of music enjoyed in the late 50s through the 60s by those who wished Pan-Am could whisk them away on magical flights to faraway lands but were stuck at home.
Pioneered by Martin Denny in 1957, the almost entirely instrumental music pieces together sounds from Polynesia, South East Asia, Africa, South America--any place considered exotic--with ambient noises like bird calls. Exotica boomed as Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto made Brazilian samba super smooth--and in English. Cha cha, calypso, mambo and other music styles were translated into stereos in America's cozy living rooms.

Here's the song the genre is named after:

Let's get down to it: exotica is kind of offensive. Song and album titles include such buzzwords as "savage" and "primitive". It's about identifying someone or something that's not like you, boiling it down to an easily-digestible tidbit and playing it for your friends over cocktails, pretending to be open-minded and hip when really you might not know what to do with a Hawaiian if you met one.

But here's the thing. I listen to my Pandora exotica station because it does transport me. I think about a time when it was new, exciting and uncommon to be someone like me, a young, unmarried woman living on her own, playing records for guests while drinking wine (exotica is also sometimes called bachelor pad music). Exotica is the soundtrack of Sex and the Single Girl, of leisure, of comfy, sexy air travel to far-off lands. It's mood for conversation, for watching girls go by:

So does exotica come with racist, colonialist and classist baggage? Sure, but it still tastes like a daiquiri to me.

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