By Elizabeth Enriquez

‘Planting Rice’, from the personal collection of dr. Elizabeth Enriquez

American businessmen introduced commercial radio broadcasting in the Philippines beginning in 1922. It was encouraged and supported by the colonial administration, which saw radio as an efficient channel by which American culture could take root in the colony. The most important and successful instruments of such a project were the English language and American and other Western music. However, the very same medium contributed to the flourishing of Filipino music, or music created by Filipinos, during the period. Radio was and still is a hungry medium; its airtime must be filled with content that the colonizers could not all produce, so they hired and trained Filipinos to sing and play musical instruments on the air, almost all the time live. Filipino veterans of the stage, many of them musical and already trained in the Western idiom of music, took to the air like fish to water. This provided an opportunity to air Filipino songs. It was a complex encounter that produced hybrids in addition to the concatenation of American jazz, classical Western music, and Filipino kundiman and folk songs. In the meantime, the recording industry had taken off in the US. With the growing population of Filipino migrants in the US, American record companies such as Columbia and RCA Victor saw a market for Filipino music, so they brought in Filipino singers to record Filipino traditional songs. Perhaps to expand the market for such recordings, Filipino and English lyrics were mixed, producing hybrids such as Katy dela Cruz’s stylized and bouncy rendition of the folk song Magtanim Ay ‘Di Biro, with the English title Planting Rice. It was a hit, and it made business sense to bring the records back to Manila to play on Manila’s radio stations. Several musical pieces that later emerged followed a similar pattern. Radio was among the cultural practices that comprised the colonial project of Americanizing Filipinos, but it was also the medium by which Filipino sonic culture persisted, and later produced a form of Filipino popular culture that emerged within the context of colonialism.

Enriquez, Elizabeth L. Appropriation of Colonial Broadcasting: A History of Early Radio in the Philippines, 1922-1946. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2008.

To cite this page:
Elizabeth Enriquez, “[Sound Bite] Producing local popular culture from colonial radio”, Sonic Entanglements Website, 29.03.2021,

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