We today think of ‘globalisation’ as a phenomenon of the latter part of the 20th century. There was, however, a moment in the years between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second World War when–with better transport and more affordable travel, with Europe’s empires still pretty much intact, and with the emergence of radio broadcasting–an incipient ‘global village’ was becoming a reality. The jazz you would listen to and dance to in London or New York would be the same jazz you would listen to and dance to in Shanghai, Gao, Saigon, Beirut, Algiers, Constantinople, and and Cairo.
At the same time the wider world was coming back to the US and, perhaps more visibly, to Europe in the form of songs that, through unembarrassed ‘Orientalist’ eyes, referenced places and peoples far away. Songs like Palesteena, like Shanghai Lil, like Rebecca (Came back from Mecca), like Hunting Tigers Out in India, like King Tut, like Egyptian Ella, and like this 1928 offering from Herman Darewski and his Covent Garden Dance Band: Sing-Song Girl Of Old Shanghai. The song was recorded by many others in that same year, including Jack Payne and His B.B.C. Dance Orchestra, Harry Hudson’s Melody Men, and the Piccadilly Dance Band (i.e. Allan Selby and his Frascatians). ‘Sing-song girls’, also known as ‘flower girls’, were (though you’d not guess it from the song lyrics) courtesans, made famous by the 1892 novel by Han Bangqing, The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai