Joe Davolaz – Piña Colada

Exotica is a genre that evokes a pseudo-tropical experience, with artists affiliated to the scene usually coming from anywhere but the regions to which they pay tribute. An elaborate homage to the regions of Oceania, the South Pacific and Amazonia, the musical aesthetic may include anything from ethnic percussion, obscure instrumentation and jungle ululations to airy strings, space age electronics, and surf guitars. The result tends to come out as a laid-back, sunny latin-tinged relation of jazz, with space-age inclinations and a magical realist outtake on island life. As genre pioneer Martin Denny put it, exotica started as "what a lot of people imagined the islands to be like... it's pure fantasy though". As clear examples, the exotica I've included on this blog and the Dig That Treasure radio show has been from the likes of Poland, France and Japan; outsiders to tropical lifestyle. And, sure enough, Joe Davolaz follow suit. Calling from Stockholm, Sweden, the ensemble make dreamy easy-listening from another planet, combining surf guitars, woodwind and breathy vocal hums. It's a totally refreshing sound for 2014; a joyful slap round the face from an unexpected source.

Label: Tonaserenad
Year: 2014
Genre: Exotica, Easy-Listening, Experimental, Pop

Quarteto Excelsior - Batuque No Morro

This track is from the rare 1957 album Coquetel Dançante N°1 by Brazilian group Quarteto Excelsior. It features pre-bossa nova versions of music by Cole Porter, Valdrido Silva and - here - Russo do Pandeiro & Roris Sá. The piece in question is Batuque No Morro (or 'Drumming On The Hill'), a gorgeous samba track filled with light-hearted optimism. A tight groove underpins interplay between piano and clarinet, over which 'Maestro Zaccarias' sings in a sophisticated Portuguese accent.

Label: RCA Victor
Year: 1957
Genre: Samba, Jazz, Bossa-Nova

Iftin - Gabar ii Noqee

Having focused on Ethiopia's rich musical history for so long, I decided to explore the music of its neighbouring countries. An obvious step was Somalia, whose musical aesthetic may be mistaken for that of Ethiopia's - both share the use of pentatonic scales, 'big band' set ups, and polyrhythmic grooves. However, unlike Ethiopia - the only African country to never have been colonised - Somalia was colonised for long periods of time by Britain and Italy (British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland). It is arguable as to whether this colonisation was an influence on Somalia's music, but one thing for sure is that the country's music scene makes much more of an observance to Western musics than Ethiopia's music scene does. Blues and funk seem to be two common influences on the country's musical landscape: the latter being a great drive behind Iftin's sound. Iftin were a band who dominated the Somali music scene in the 70s and 80s. I guess in a way, Iftin were much like Roha Band: they were a core of musicians that provided the backing for guest singers. Both bands shared the use of a prominent horn section, but Iftin also utilised a funk guitarist. Along with pentatonic horn lines and boggling grooves lays wobbling guitar, giving a unique edge to Iftin's music. This particular song is called Gabar ii Noqee, which translates to 'Be My Wife'.

Label: ?
Year: 197?
Genre: Somali Funk, Jazz

Mziuri - Lampionebi

Sometimes a discovery blows me away for reasons beyond just the music. As a History student with a fascination for Soviet culture and lifestyle, to stumble upon Mziuri was special for me. Mziuri (or Мзиури) were a Georgian pop group made up of pre-teen schoolgirls, handpicked to guarantee only the 'best of the best' for the band's formation. They wore matching outfits - often including neckties - and performed dozens of concerts a year in front of astonished audiences of adults. A massive success in the USSR and Soviet-occupied Georgia, they won the Lenin Komsomol Prize in 1976: a yearly award for Soviet youth in various fields. A breakdown of the name is telling, with Komsomol being an abbreviation of 'Communist Union of Youth' and with Lenin being, well, of course... being Lenin. Surprisingly, only a few of the band's members really 'made it' in music, namely Maia Jabua, the fresh-faced lead singer of the video embedded above. The song, Lampionebi, was released in various versions, but the clip I've included is from sometime around 1974-5. A cleaner, organ-driven version is available to hear here. I personally prefer the fuzzier, guitar-led version, whose poor video quality adds to the distortion and texture of the track.

Label: n/a 
Year: 1974-5
Genre: Pop, Easy-Listening, Russian Rock

Sean Nicholas Savage - Caitlin

Out of print, unavailable for download, and with under 40 listeners on music scrobbling site Last FM, Sean Nicholas Savage's 2008 CDr Little Submarine is virtually untraceable. Yet, as Arbutus Records's first ever release it acts as a landmark: the beginning of 'weird Canada' - a modern scene and sound manifested in acts like Makeout Videotape, Majical Clouds, Doldrums, Tonstartssbandht and other affiliates. This release is special and 'Caitlin' is the best of the lot. The guitar line is frantic and Savage's vocals are strained, but still it remains sugary, sweet and infectious. It's a real modern treasure, one that's very hard to find but easy to digest.

Label: Arbutus Records
Year: 2008
Genre: Indie Pop, Freak Folk

Matia Bazar - Solo Tu

Matia Bazar were - and are - massive in Italy. Since 1975 they've scored number ones in the home country, represented the nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, and racked up an adoring fanbase of middle aged Italian MOR and new wave fanatics. But in the UK? Matia Bazar are a case of not quite 'making it' in the English-speaking West. Maybe they're too 'cheesy', maybe the language barrier caused issues. Either way: for me right now, writing this post to be published to a base made up largely of English and American readers, this song is a total gem. It's a chirpy pop song. It's simple, it's easy, it's fun. And it has the vibe of a new wave rarity that didn't achieve what it could and should have (see also: Warfield Spillers).

Label: Ariston Records
Year: 1977
Genre: MOR, Pop, New Wave