America is host to countless sub-cultures – many of which were born here. But I can think of only one that generates more happiness than all the rest put together: Tiki Culture. Vintage Hawaiian shirts, sweet (and toxic) cocktails, steel guitars, and hand-carved totems fill people with joy. In my opinion it’s a scene that should be government subsidized to better our emotional and international health.
A “tiki” plainly describes various art works carved of wood or stone by Pacific Islander folks. But since the early 30’s (roughly) the term broadened to include all manner of artwork, textiles, spears, fish nets, dried puffer fish, music, drink, and of course tiki bars. The tiki bar became a place to escape into the land of exotic culture, romantic notions of island life, the ultimate in relaxation – and you could go there to transport yourself whenever you wanted.
For many present day die-hards however, there’s no need to “go” anywhere, for they have transformed their home bars into tiki bars. In many cases people convert their entire homes and yards into tiki wonderlands. So it’s not truly an “escape” anymore, is it? It’s become a way of life.
Now kindly throw away your pre-conceived notions of beer-bellied, red-faced, Tommy Bahama wearing guys listening to Jimmy Buffett. (Tiki folk wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a Jimmy Buffett shirt anyway.) This “family” has a rich social life, boast intriguing careers in the arts, have young kids, grandkids, are boy scout leaders, direct films like “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story 3”, and have a healthy appetite for a diverse variety of spirited / harmonically complex music (called “Exotica”). Oh, and they enjoy a well crafted tropical drink, or several.
I was first introduced the tiki world about 15 years ago when some brothers and I started a tiki (Exotica) band called “APE” (still going strong). Having performed at numerous tiki festivals, tiki clubs and bars I guess you could say I had my “come-to-tiki” moment. As a guitarist I fell in love. As a photographer I couldn’t not explore this! Needless to say, there’s some serious eye candy here - but wow, the enthusiasm and warm reception I received from the subjects was (and continues to be) gratifying. Mahalo!!!
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