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This essay explores the relation between the worldwide circulation of vernacular phonograph music in the late 1920s and the dialectic of colonization and decolonization. The boom in recorded vernacular musics—from son to jazz, samba to kroncong, marabi to beguine—that took place between the development of electrical recording in the mid-1920s and the Great Depression of the early 1930s coincided with the first stirrings of anticolonial activism and thought; it also coincided with a wave of primitivism and exoticism among the modernist countercultures of the imperial capitals. The essay considers the contradictory meanings and appropriations of vernacular gramophone records, and, drawing on examples from Hawaii to Cuba, India to North Africa, it argues that phonograph recordings became a fundamental part of the cultural revolution that was decolonization, both through their direct connections to national liberation movements and through their transcolonial reverberations. 

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