Breaking taboos

A little while ago I wrote about the Pizza Principle: do not judge the music of a country by the pizza named after it. The principle applies most obviously to Hawaii, where tourist clichés obscure a rich musical tradition. Discovering the wonderful steel guitar playing of Sol Ho’opi’i inspired me to be more open minded to Hawaiian music.

This takes a little effort – the covers of Hawaiian LPs tend to be a bit tacky – lots of pictures of palm trees and beaches, hula girls and frangipani blossoms. And its best not to read the liner notes:

taboo – primitive superstitions of an island volcano, woven into eerie lush tropical sounds. As the ear listens, the mind conjures ancient Hawaiian rituals, the days of Queen Lilioukalani’s monarchy, and then the Hawaiian Islands as they are today … Cosmopolitan Honolulu symbolises the impact of the white man on the island paradise, or more correctly, perhaps, the impact of the island paradise on the white man.

lyman sleeveAstonishingly, someone would have been paid to write this tosh. But ignore it, and the bubbling lava on the cover. There is some terrific music to be enjoyed. This is an extraordinarily inventive and engaging record, Taboo, by the Arthur Lyman Group.

Lyman, the father of Exotica as he is sometimes called, was a native Hawaaiin who played the vibraphone and a heap of other instruments which involved hitting things. He put a Pacific Island touch to jazz, and generally mucked around with strange instruments and sounds.

lyman group picYou would expect a jungle kitsch mess, but it isn’t. Lyman was a skilled and imaginative musician, the sounds he and his band members produced are unique and absorbing.

The LP Taboo was released in 1958, and was a major hit, reaching the top ten in the United States and staying on the charts for more than a year. This is the title track. Forget the nonsense on the sleeve, and just listen.

  • Artist: Arthur Lyman Group
  • LP Title: Taboo
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Taboo”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Hi-Fi Records R 806
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1958

 

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