Just as the tiki of the '50s was based on faux-tropicalia, this Japanese export create a fake island fantasy in their music.
This is a CD of the music of Jawaii. That's not a misspelling -- this band from Japan has made up their own mystical island.
If you did not know better, you would think that this is surf music. But the Tikis have helpfully given a description of the origin of each of their 16 tracks. For example, "'Gifu Jam' is a traditional folksong, an evergreen suitable for any occasion." There is a Japanese band for any kind of American music you can think of, so surf music is a natural (you don't have to get pronunciations down perfectly). Often these bands have learned their genre to near perfection, as Tiki Tiki Bamboooos have. They can stand on their own with any American surf band.
The Tikis are a trio -- Miyaji Tiki guitars, Noriko Bamboooos bass, and Manu Tiki drums, with vocals on the CD by all three and three additional guest stars. There is as much variety as you could expect from this type of music, which is the key to success for a surf album. For one thing, there are a few vocals. There is a recitation on "Bella Ciao (trad.)" about "finding a Secret Spot when you close your eyes". Noriko's voice is obviously Eastern, but that is an advantage here, adding a Japanese pop flavor that fits comfortably into the spirit of these tracks. A guest plays soprano sax on "Sugoina", which makes part of the song sound strangely like a klezmer tune. Most of the instrumentals are fast and upbeat, but a few change the pace like "Scuba", a beautiful tune more in keeping with the Tiki theme. The Tiki is the symbol of exotica, a different breed of music than surf.
Miyaji can play well, with all the twang, whammy bar, and vibrato that you expect from the beach, and Manu changes the beat without ever getting too complex. They have obviously studied American music carefully -- there is even a bit of guitar playing "In the Mood" at the beginning of one of the tracks. No matter how accomplished, it can be difficult to keep a listener's attention during a run of mostly instrumental surf music. That is why Los Straightjackets, for example, wear Mexican wrestler masks when they play live. Here, each song's story fits into a narrative involving the subjugation of the island by the evil king Wa Wa Waky the Seventh.
One track has nonsense lyrics, because after a mystic vision, "Manu Tiki became schizophrenic and would only say useless stuff in a foreign language that none of the others could understand." The CD sleeve even folds out so that one side is a comic with pictures of all the characters in the island's story. The band's website at http://www.tikitiki.de even includes further information about the island of Jawaii, and a petition for free elections there.
This CD should be a hit on both the surf and exotica charts. Unfortunately, there aren't any, but followers of both types of music can enjoy this high-spirited CD.