From the 1920s on, popular music in Southeast Asia was a mass-audience phenomenon that drew new connections between indigenous musical styles and contemporary genres from elsewhere to create new, hybrid forms. This book presents a cultural history of modern Southeast Asia from the vantage point of popular music, considering not just singers and musicians but their fans as well, showing how the music was intrinsically bound up with modern life and the societal changes that came with it. Reaching new audiences across national borders, popular music of the period helped push social change, and at times served as a medium for expressions of social or political discontent.
Luis Borromeo was the Philippines’s “King of Jazz,” who at the height of his popularity created a Filipino answer to the Ziegfeld Follies. Miss Riboet was a world-famous Javanese opera singer who ruled the theater world. While each represented a unique corner of the entertainment world, the rise and fall of these two superstar figures tell an important story of Southeast Asia’s 1920s Jazz Age.
This artistic era was marked by experimentation and adaption, and this was reflected in both Borromeo’s and Riboet’s styles. They were pioneering cultural brokers who dealt in hybrids. They were adept at combining high art and banal entertainment, tradition and modernity, and the foreign and the local.
Leaning on cultural studies and the work on cosmopolitanism and modernity by Henry Jenkins and Joel Kahn, Peter Keppy examines pop culture at this time as a contradictory social phenomenon. He challenges notions of Southeast Asia’s popular culture as lowbrow entertainment created by elites and commerce to manipulate the masses, arguing instead that audiences seized on this popular culture to channel emancipatory activities, to articulate social critique, and to propagate an inclusive nationalism without being radically anticolonial.