Primitive Paradise: Early Exotica 1920-1947


The genre known as "exotica" reached worldwide success during the 1950s thanks to artists such as Yma Sumac, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman, but its origin can be found almost 50 years earlier. The seed was planted by Hawaiian musicians who performed, representing their country, at the first Universal Exhibitions that took place in the United States in 1901. Their paradisiacal melodies, percussion, and tribal rhythms; the strange timbre of instruments such as the ukulele and the steel guitar; and the scantily clad female dancers sparked the interest of American society. The eccentric vaudeville shows, especially their risqué numbers, incorporated sounds from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa to create the right atmosphere for an exotic stage on which sensual dancers tried to satisfy the audience's escapist needs. It was then that the traditional folklore of the islands began to merge with Western rhythms such as foxtrot and swing. The first recordings by Hawaiian artists were marketed widely in the 1910s on the 78 rpm format, and as a result the steel guitar, the genre's characteristic instrument, became so popular that it was integrated into other genres such as country, country blues, Western swing, and novelty music. At the same time, Cuban and Puerto Rican music arrived in the United States thanks to pioneers such as Trío Matamoros, Don Azpiazú, and Los Jardineros, who paved the way for such enormously popular stars as Desi Arnaz and Xavier Cugat. On the other side of the pond, in the early '30s, rumba, conga, and beguine were creating a frenzy in Europe thanks to orchestras from Cuba, Guadeloupe, and Martinique performing at Parisian clubs. Later on, after World War II, more commercial rhythms such as cha-cha-cha and mambo would be easily assimilated by an audience already used to Latin sounds that would eventually conquer all of Europe and the rest of the world. The music featured on this compilation is a sample of that musical expansion, exemplified by 14 tracks of early exotica originally released on 78 rpm records between 1920 and 1947 in countries such as France, Spain, England, Holland, Japan, and the USA. Most have never been reissued on any format until now. Includes tracks by Orquesta Serramont, Lecuona Cuban Boys, Mercedes Mariño, Pedro Berrios, All Star Trio, The Honolulu Queens, South Sea Islanders, Anglo-Persians, Jay Whidden, Elsie Bayron, The Kidoodlers, Wailana Grass Shack Boys, The Tune Wranglers, and Gino Bordin.