The Tiki Tribe
With mugs, statues, songs and fashion, these kamaaina are carrying the kitschy, tacky, tiki torch.
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Exotica has provided the soundtrack for tiki culture ever since Martin Denny created the genre in the 1950s. The neoexotica groups of today, sometimes simply called tiki bands, include the Tikiyaki Orchestra, the Waitiki 7, and a Hawaii-based musical collective called Don Tiki.
Martin Denny approved of Don Tiki, so much so that he played on three tracks on the band’s 1997 debut album, The Forbidden Sounds of Don Tiki. Further deepening Don Tiki’s cred is its percussionist and bird caller, Lopaka Colon, son of Augie Colon, who had the same role in Martin Denny’s band. “His dad genetically coded him for bongos and bird calls,” says Lloyd Kandell, a Don Tiki co-founder.
The recently released South of the Boudoir is the band’s fourth album, but for the full Don Tiki effect you really have to take in a live performance, with all the crazy costumes and choreographed exotic dancers. Campy though the stage show may be, the music is no joke. “We never wanted to be a retro band or a nostalgia act,” says Kandell, whose stage name is Fluid Floyd. “We sincerely love this music and want it to be kept alive.”
Some of Don Tiki’s members live on the Mainland, so Hawaii shows are rare. But the band is well-traveled. It’s done Vegas, it headlined a summer music festival in Germany, and it played the night the Kahiki died. The Kahiki Supper Club of Columbus, Ohio, is a legend in the tiki world. It was a massive tiki palace with thatched huts, a rain forest and monolithic tiki heads beneath its 80-foot-tall Polynesian-style roof. Despite a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it was torn down in 2000 to make way for a Walgreens pharmacy. Don Tiki performed the night it closed, playing on a stage before a three-story tall Easter Island moai with glowing red eye sockets and a fireplace for a mouth.
The Kahiki was packed. “Half the crowd was the town VIPs and the mayor coming to say thank you for 50 beautiful years of service,” Kandell recalls. “And the other half were these aging international super hipsters from the East Coast, the West Coast, London, Australia, and all over. It was an interesting combination.”
The Freaky Tiki People
I asked Kandell to tell me more about the super hipster tiki people, and he said: “We’re like these aging punk rockers. We are still super hipster outsiders, but we’re a little too old to be in the mosh pit. Maybe we have tattoos, and bones through our noses, but we need to chill out with a mai tai and listen to some exotica.”