Musical Roads to Mandalay

Buried under dissertation marking, I have neglected my blog a little, so here is a short one before I go back to the grindstone. These are two very different musical versions of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’. The first was performed in Britain in the 1930s by Robert Easton (apologies for the terrible sound quality). The second was performed in North America in (I think) the 1950s by Frank Sinatra.

In both videos the singers are dressed up in tails and perform the song with an air of sophistication. The working class voice that Kipling was attempting to imitate in his poem is lost in these versions – they are much more suited to lounge bars than barrack halls. This shift of register, if anything, makes the soldier’s desire for his erstwhile Burmese mistress even more sleazy. The two performances are a helpful reminder that an imperial culture existed on both sides of ‘the pond’ and lasted after the formal end of colonial rule.

Incidentally, despite what the poem says, there is no bay in Mandalay. However, perhaps as a result of this exoticising imagery, Mandalay Bay is now the name of a Las Vegas hotel complex.

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