Jazz in the American Empire, A Lenticular Reading 

“Ma Filipino babe” Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections.


The essay gathers fragments of US-Philippine cultural history with the aim of historicizing and locating the arrival of a jazz-age in the US colony. In the 1920s, a new cultural era dawned in the urban hubs of the American empire; one associated with novel forms of vernacular literature, theater and music and their consumption via the mass media of print, broadcasting and film. This essay examines he “coon songs” that popularized the colonization of the Philippines, the cultural contact of Filipinos with African-America music during the Philippine-American war and the complex relationship between the elusive phenomena of modernity, cosmopolitanism and nationalism in the transnational experiences of two pioneering Filipino-American jazz artists, Lou Borromeo and Fred Elizalde, who were active in commercial music and theater in the metropolis and in the colony in the 1920s-1930s. The social significance of colonial jazz in American culture is reexamined through a lenticular reading; that is, a reading that examines how elements are conjoined structurally but impossible to be perceived as the same.

Keywords: jazz age, cosmopolitanism, modernity, nationalism, american empire, lou borromeo, fred elizalde, lenticular

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