With sexy, ’60s-style go-go dancers on each side of the stage, The Untouchables got the floor moving with their mod, ska bops. But this wasn’t your typical crowd – about 2000 people, clad in colorful Hawaiian tapa-print shirts and Polynesian flower-print dresses, were there for the annual event, Tiki Oasis in San Diego – the largest gathering of Tiki Culture lovers in the world. They come to shop for Tiki collectibles, party by the pool to DJs spinning all day long, and rock out to bands influenced by the eras that prompted Tiki-mania.
Tiki Culture started as an American fascination with the delights of the Polynesian Islands in the 1930s and blossomed into a full blown movement as bars and restaurants began popping up in the 1950s and ’60s as a means of creating a primal hideaway from the conservative family values of the time.
The original music of this scene is “hapa-haole,” which translates to “half white,” reflecting the mainlander obsession with Hawaii. Performer and Tiki Oasis regular, King Kukulele explains, “This music tells the stories of Hawaiians and was a way for mainlanders to connect with the spirit of Hawaii. A lot of the songs are funny or a bit naughty. It’s performed traditionally with acoustic instruments or just a ukelele.” Some well known “hapa-haole” singers include Hilo Hattie and Poncie Ponce from the TV show ” Hawaiian Eye. ” Probably the best known hapa-haole singer may be Don Ho, but even pop stars from Elvis Presley to Bing Crosby got bitten by the bug and released Hawaiian-inspired albums.
Kukulele’s career came from his own trip to Hawaii. He began playing a ukelele he picked up at a crafts fair. His big break came while busking through Europe and playing a pub co-owned by U2’s Bono called Mr. Pussy’s Cafe Deluxe. He has since been a mainstay at Hawaiian-themed events around the world. His shows consist of a joyful mix of hapa-haole and improv comedy.
Another sound associated with Tiki culture is exotica, fantastical instrumental music combined with animal noises produced by Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. The relaxing, atmospheric melodies provide the perfect background soundtrack to fit any Tiki bar.
Kukluele adds that surf music is also a part of Tiki culture, “basically anything that goes naturally with the beach.” So don’t forget to throw on some Dick Dale or The Ventures.
Back at Tiki Oasis, the genre of Tiki music consists of an eclectic mix of retro party music including lounge, exotica, ’60s pop, garage, mod, movie soundtracks and of course, King Kukulele, who not only performed but emceed the festival this year.
So if you want to escape life for a few sweet moments, put on a pair of headphones, crank up some vintage Hawaiian sounds and pretend you’re away on an exotic island – it doesn’t get much better than that!