|Musiquarium||Oct 1 2010|
During our constant search for pulp we often come across interesting images and above is a prime example. It’s a shot taken inside the Mexico City nightclub El Salón Colonia, circa 1935, where the drinks were cold, the band was hot, and the stage decorations were… racist? Well, as an obvious caricature, that's hard to deny, but within its particular context it probably wasn't thought of as a disparagement. Having lived in Latin America for years, we can tell you that, lingustically, people tend to refer to others as exactly what they are. If you're overweight, you're, "el gordo." If you're blonde, you're, "la rubia." And so on.
In the Mexico of that time, therefore, the laughing ebony mask you see would not have struck the same discordant racial notes as in the U.S. Mexican culture is sprinkled with black saints and icons, and even blackface characters that appear on television when you least expect it. The owners of El Salón Colonia were clearly indulging in the timeless tradition of co-opting African-American flavor for cool effect. The phenomenon occurred in many places, notably in Europe, where early jazzmen would later tour, awed at the respect locals had for their music, culture, and style.
Style-wise, El Salón Colonia’s mask was more than just striking—it was incredibly clever. As you can see in the 1935 photo, a piano stood in its open mouth, and its lower lip acted as a piano bench. Surprisingly, the mask survives today, residing at the Museo de Juguete Antiguo in Mexico City. While it certainly shocks the few Americans that wander through, for older Mexicans it’s simply a beloved reminder of those hot nights at a once great club.