Various Artists - Dutch Exotica [Sonic Scenery, 2009]

"This is a record played on arabian instruments, a cha-cha-cha from Cuba played by a Dutch musician for an American tourist." So says the voice of a square sounding radio announcer, while introducing Languestra and his Orchestra's 'Jamila (Cha-Cha-Cha Oriental). This cultural gumbo describes this collection of Dutch exotica from 1937 - 1977 to a tee.

Exotica icon Martin Denny said this: "My music has always been fiction, jut like a book. Everything comes from my imagination, a mix of my ideas and those of the musicians who worked with me. It wasn't about authenticity, but illusion." Exotica came to prominence on American hi-fis and easy-chairs as a respite from Cold War tension, as a result of an increase in disposable income and leisure time and the rise of the social class known as the Swinging Bachelors. It was a welcome respite to the pervasive shadow of invisible enemies and paranoia, and the looming prospect of imminent nuclear annihilation. It allowed the listen to be swept away to sunny isles with swaying palm fronds and swinging hammocks, frosty tropical drinks adorned with gay colored umbrellas.

This compilation is a fine collection of the usual Exotica cliches: hawaiian guitars, bird sounds, swing music, and latin percussion. Intended as a light-hearted soundtrack to cocktail parties and seductions, to ease the stress of a day at the office, to take off the tie and replace it with a Hawaiian lei. As such, it is an inherently easy-listening, feel good kind of music. You will not find complicated chord changes or dissonances here, nor any emotional extremes for the matter. Rather, it is a middle-of-the-road style that is intended to offend no one, to soothe rather than disturb or provoke. At best, you may find rather accomplished musicians working in established forms, and the flights of fancy and imagination used to evoke far-off places, such as the fiery piano of 'Jungle Fantasy' by Combo Rinus van Gisen or the impressive whistling used to simulate bird sounds on 'Beautiful Isle of Somewhere' by Jan Tromp.

"Dutch Exotica" is a good introduction to a style that has been shuffled off to the bargain bins of history, as it captures many of the hallmarks of the Exotica genre. Of particular interest are the Hawaiian sounding tracks, as American music was in vogue in Holland, but jazz music was violently suppressed by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe, and the tropical sounds were deemed less offensive by the censors. The musicians sometimes supplied Dutch vocals as well, to give it more of a national flavor. The horns imitating jungle noises on 'Tabu' by Thom Kelling y su Conjunto are interesting; they wouldn't sound out of place on an Albert Ayler record. The surf and slide guitar of 'South Sea Breeze' by The Mena Moeria Minstrels is pretty sweet. 'Midnight in Malaya' by Boy and his Rollin' Kids sounds like 'The Rivers of Babylon' by The Abyssinians, as viewed from the bottom of the oceans. Some of the older, Big Band styled sounds are noteworthy as well, particularly the staple 'The Sheik of Araby' by Secco's Gitanos, with its oriental, klezmer sounds, that are reminiscent of the Gypsy Swing of Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli.

Overall, this is an interesting time-capsule of an interesting couple of decades in the world. In today's stressful times, as economic insecurity and political turmoil rock the world, perhaps it is time to resurrect the lounges and cocktail hours. Relax, and take it easy, let yourself be swept away on a tropical breeze!

J. Simpson

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Buy Dutch Exotica from
Official Dutch Exotica website
Dutch Exotica @ Dusty Groove America


Various Artists - Dutch Exotica