IFTR 2016: Presenting the Theatrical Past

IFTR 2016: Presenting the Theatrical Past

The International Federation of Theatre Research (IFTR) 2016 Annual Conference will be hosted by Stockholm University on 13-17 June 2016. This year’s theme will be “Presenting the Theatrical Past. Interplays of Artefacts, Discourses and Practices”. I am excited because it will be my first time in Sweden and I get to talk about some of the new materials I gathered during my archival research in Kuala Lumpur last year.

If you are in Stockholm next month, please do drop by our panel. The conference program is here. And I include here below the title and short description of my presentation.


Sound Urbanization Policies? City modernization policies and the importation of migrant Manila musicians in 19th-century colonial Southeast Asia

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Manila was the center of global popular music theatre in Southeast Asia. It was also the source of the ubiquitous Manila musicians that formed the first town bands across the Asia Pacific. In 1881, the Shanghai municipal band was the first publicly-funded musical band composed entirely of Manila musicians organized in the region. It did not take long before the urban practice of employing a Manila band spread from Medan, Singapore and Penang to Macau, Hong Kong and Tokyo. As Western diatonic music became the acoustic matrix of early global modernity, the Manila musicians served as the musical laborers who replicated, displaced, and diversified the auditioning of Asian modernities through their performances of European dance music and operatic overtures and fantasies.

As publicly-funded troupes imported by colonial governments and local monarchs to provide ‘public services’, why were the Manila musicians of such particular import? How did this become so? How were the translocal/transimperial hirings of these musicians organized? More importantly, how can we understand such historical and translocal/glocal processes from the perspective of city-development policies in these urban capitals? At a time when imperial administrators were designing urban housing, education, health, and immigration policies premised on a racial hierarchies of the colonial imagination, why was the hiring of Manila musicians considered the benchmark of ‘acoustic modernity’? How did the migration of Manila musicians challenge and complicate the racialized urbanization and modernization policies of the time through sonic epistemologies mediated by their musical embodiment and performance? This paper will examine these issues drawing from archival materials of the Manila bands in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.