Vibra Cubana Brings Exotica Alive at La Mariana

By Jamie Winpenny

The La Mariana Sailing Club hosts the Latin jazz and exotica trio Vibra Cubana every Monday. It’s an outstanding ensemble, featuring three accomplished Honolulu musicians who each have illustrious careers of their own outside of the trio.

But first, a little about the legendary La Mariana itself.

Thomas MacKay, Ernie Provencher, and Augie “Lopaka” Colon Jr. weave their sonic tropical voodoo sounds at the La Mariana Tiki Bar & Restaurant in Honolulu. (Honolulu Vibes photo by Ronen Zilberman)
The humble establishment may be the epicenter of a tiki subculture that has made its way and entrenched itself around the world. On the surface, tiki culture is by definition “kitschy.” Beyond the tropes of carved tiki gods and lavish tropical drinks, however, lies something more ephemeral and ultimately fulfilling than a tired pop culture cliché. La Mariana is, perhaps, the original manifestation of that something.

It has been featured in television institutions like Hawaii 5-0(the original and
reboot), Magnum P.I. ̧ and a host of Hollywood movies and album covers. The opening of Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood in 1933 is rightly credited with starting the tiki phenomenon. But La Mariana is the non-ironic embodiment of that spirit.

La Mariana opened in 1957. It’s located in the heart of industrial Honolulu at Keehi Lagoon, far from the languid, lapping shores of Waikiki beach and the on-holiday milieu that tiki culture seeks to emulate. Tucked behind a warehouse off Sand Island Access Road, La Mariana may be accurately described as a shack. The smell of diesel and exhaust at Keehi is in the wind. It is not the kind of place that anyone would happen to stumble across. It is a destination.

La Mariana is where Vibra Cubana works their tropical sonic voodoo. It’s a singular fortune to hear the three-piece deep textures. This speaks to the stellar caliber of musicianship shared by the members of the outfit.

Percussionist Augie “Lopaka” Colon, Jr. is the scion of a Hawaiian music dynasty. Towering over an array of congas, bongos, maracas, chimes, and Hawaiian percussion instruments

like the ‘ipu, Colon is as integral to Vibra Cubana’s sound as the dulcet tones conjured by dreadlocked vibraphonist Thomas MacKay. Stand-up bassist Ernie Provencher alternates between fingerstyle and the bow. The result is a stunningly orchestral sound that seems unlikely from such sparse instrumentation.

Combined with La Mariana’s intrinsically authentic atmosphere, Vibra Cubana provides a truly immersive experience. It is one that is enjoyed by a clientele that is equal parts visitor and local. A recent Monday evening saw old salts, likely harbor slip-holders, slouched over their phones at the bar as incredulous and obvious tourists captured the experience with devices of their own.

Diners fill-up the atmospheric tiki lounge to enjoy food, drink, and live music on a Monday night.
When the band tore into an inspired exotica version of “Tequila”, a little boy in an obnoxious aloha shirt that matched his parents’ tore up the dancefloor in a frenzy of joyous abandon. The scene was reflected in the large mirror behind the band, with twinkling lights stretching into and out of a pastiche of the warm colors of a sunset in paradise. Medicine ball-sized glass orbs, translucent blue and green vestiges of a long abandoned maritime and fishing tradition, swayed in the breeze coming off the lagoon. They danced with the flicker of the tiki torches that stand sentinel throughout La Mariana.

Added to the atmosphere that night was the savory smell of teriyaki and fresh fish, perhaps caught by one of the old men at the bar that very day. That is to say: the food at La Mariana is truly local and very much a part of the Vibra Cubana/La Mariana experience.

An unbiased review of Vibra Cubana and/or La Mariana would include downsides. This, however, is not a review. It’s a testimonial. There are no downsides.

June 2019 – Magazine Exotica Moderne 5th Edition IntoxiKA CD Review

Being a big fan of Exotica music for close to 40 years now, it’s nice to see newer bands revisit and pay tribute to the genre. When played well, the best Exotica music allows the listener to escape from the confines of daily existence into a sultry South Seas paradise. The new self-titled CD by Hawaii’s IntoxiKA does this and by incorporating electronic sounds into the mix, they are also laying the groundwork for future exploration.

IntoxiKA’s debut CD adds a fresh new take on Exotica while respecting the elders who came before them. All three members of the band are fans of the original Exotica movement and for Augie Lopaka Colon, it runs in the family. The group consists of Thomas Mackay on vibes, loops and electronic effects, Augie Lopaka Colon on every percussion instrument you can imagine, along with his trademark birdcalls, and Ernie Provencher who plays the upright electric bass. The recording quality is so good you’d swear there were more people in the band. It was mixed and engineered by Kona Askari and mastered by him as well with the help of Matthew Honda at Black Pearl Studios on the island of Oahu. It’s like Cal Tjader and Steely Dan had a jam session in the middle of the jungle.

A rousing updated version of Margarita Lecuona’s Taboo starts the festivities. It’s a nine- minute percussion spectacular. Lopaka’s bongo’s, conga’s and a battery of various percussion instruments, blend well with Mackay’s vibes and electronic effects. Ernie’s smooth but powerful bass lines bring everything together. At one point the song almost turns into a reggae dub where the musicians have fun with weird electronic sounds, mysterious vocals about Tiki Culture, and crazy bird calls from another planet. It’s a stunning opener!

Other highlights include Gold Lame’ an original Thomas Mackay composition that starts out with the bass line from Quiet Village until morphing into an original piece that is truly beautiful. The electronic atmosphere created by Tom is a welcome surprise. The CD ends with a rousing version of Martin Denny’s Primitiva. It’s a percussion spectacular and one I am sure Marty himself would give his seal of approval.

Grab your favorite cocktail and set sail for an exotic adventure in sound!

The debut recording from IntoxiKA is now available for digital downloads via amazon.com and cdbaby.com. Physical CD’s are available from intoxicahi@gmail.com.

For more information Visit the bands official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ intoxikaHI/

Jeff Chenault, author/producer, music historian and exotica DJ.

 

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