Postmamboism: History Through Music


“Open your ears to hear words, songs and other important matters.”

Last week, while looking up poetry from the Harlem Renaissance writers, and the Jazz drummer, Art Blakey, for my honors thesis, I stumbled upon a piece by Ned Sublette wrote two years ago about his theory of “Postmamboism:”

“…Postmamboism is closely allied with (but not limited to) history, anthropology, linguistics, literature and critical theory, cultural studies, religious studies, urban studies, communications, performing and plastic arts, and all manner of Africanist and Hispanist study, to say nothing of musicology and ethnomusicology. Overlapping with other theoretical perspectives, Postmamboism is intrinsically cross-disciplinary and bi-directional: if music provides a way to hear into history, history also provides a necessary grounding to the study of music.

Postmamboism acknowledges a dialectic between its essential reference point of music that is popular (literally, of the people, signifying music that springs from historical roots and, relying on memory and person-to-person transmission, is infinitely renewable), and pop, which is presentist and must be mediated, consumed and replaced. Postmamboism speaks in the vernacular, deprivileging jargon, cultic language, and hyperpolysyllabicism. Postmamboism values the testimony, experience, and vocabulary of cultural practitioners, because for Postmamboists as for musicians, theory must be connected to practice…”

Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer and singer-songwriter, who has written several books, including “The Year Before the Flood” about the city of New Orleans. He definitely has an interesting theory, especially with the progressive and activist tone of it, and it should receive more attention; maybe I will become a postmamboist one day.

And speaking of Mambo, here is Arsensio Rodriguez, the Cuban bandleader who claimed to be the “Father of the Mambo” and from whom the first quote is derived.

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