Principles of Postmamboism

Abre kuta guiri mambo.jpg Postmamboism is a portable theory that places music at the center of understanding and uses music to interrogate other fields of study.

While the premises and methods of Postmamboism are applicable across a wide variety of musics, the discipline begins with the study of African and African diaspora musics, given their historical centrality to the music of the world and their deep connection through slavery, neoslavery, and liberation struggles to fundamental questions of colonialism, capitalism, and civilization. Postmamboism calls for a thorough knowledge of music of the black Atlantic, and implicitly has much to do with the emergent field of Atlantic studies, but its techniques and perspective can work with any musical culture.

Postmamboism is urgently interested in the ancient history of all civilizations, including both that which is documented through archaeology in the dry, heavily excavated zones of the Mediterranean Rim and Asia, and that which rotted in the humidity and archaeological neglect of sub-Saharan Africa and must be studied by other means. The term Postmamboism derives from the Kikongo word imbú, likely used in Cuba from the 16th century on, that is variously translated as "word," "law," "song," or "important matter," and which is pluralized as ma-imbú, or mambo. The prefix "post" is understood to mean not "what replaced," but "what happened after the world was transformed by." Postmamboism says with Arsenio Rodríguez: Abre (open) kuta (ear) güiri (hear) mambo.

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.

An essential quality of Postmamboism is that it cannot be only preached, but must also be practiced, through immersion in music. This implies the scholar's attainment of a level of socialization not required by other theoretical brands, and demands a commitment to the kinesthetic. Dancing is understood by Postmamboists to be a deep listening state inseparable from the associated musical experience. Working knowledge of a musical instrument is not absolutely necessary, but highly useful; Postmamboism's dynamic of scholarship combined with real-world musical practice entails ear training on an ongoing basis. Postmamboist conferences emphasize the direct experience of music as part of the discourse.

Postmamboism grew out of informal conversations among scholars and practitioners in Havana, New Orleans, New York, and other capitals of the Afro-Atlantic world. Without having a name, it has nonetheless been practiced by scholars in a wide variety of fields working with music as a central avenue or focus of investigation. Postmamboism is cynical about the existing university system, seeing it as a place where intellectuals are neutralized by rendering their ideas unintelligible, while students and aspirants to its Priesth.ooD. are systematically exploited and driven into debt as class divisions between the educated and the uneducated deepen.

Postmamboism is activist, in that it seeks not merely to describe the world but to improve it, by applying the corporeal, communitarian, and spiritual power of music to contemporary thought and action. Given the historical role of music as subaltern discourse, Postmamboism also reserves the right to deploy satire and mockery, and more broadly, to celebrate carnival in infinitely varying forms.

© 2009 Institute for Postmambo Studies

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  1. What a great concept! I’m curious about a few things, though. One, how do you feel that musical forms that are largely seen as white, middle class, and suburban do fit into this framework (you seem to say that all musical forms can indeed be studied through this framework)? I’m thinking about my field of historical study, punk, but what about others?

    Next, given this:

    “Postmamboism is cynical about the existing university system, seeing it as a place where intellectuals are neutralized by rendering their ideas unintelligible, while students and aspirants to its Priesth.ooD. are systematically exploited and driven into debt as class divisions between the educated and the uneducated deepen.”

    (a view which I think I can get behind) Can this approach be practiced at a university, do ya think? In general do you think that academia has become useless in terms of resistance? What are proposed alternatives for those of us with an inclination towards both scholarship and educating others?

    Over all, an incredibly interesting and productive way to view history in general… Thanks for sharing!

  2. Am I the only person who expected that the entire article would be a Sokalesque setup to one of:

    – the five major periods of mambo, the last of which is “Mambo No. 5”

    – the use of other traditional music styles as mambo surrogates, aka “Representing the Mambo”

    – a contrast to Lionel Richie’s earlier work with the Commodores, which would be prejamboism

  3. I read that as “Post man-boy-ism”, and expected something about the likes of Zach Braff and Seth Green falling out of favor.

  4. “Postmamboism speaks in the vernacular, deprivileging jargon, cultic language, and hyperpolysyllabicism. ”

    This is either satire or actually hilarious.

  5. @ Jay Levitt (no relation to Norman Levitt?) -Sokal hoax exactly, except this isn’t a hoax I imagine.

    If you disemvoweled this gobbledygook it would retain the same connection to rational thought and reality.

  6. Love it Ned! It reclaims a space for those who hear, move and create. It’s interesting that so many of music’s new experts do none of these.

  7. speaking as a member of one of the aforementioned groups of practitioners in new york, i appreciate your efforts to contextualize postmomboism and put it into a vernacular accessible to all those trapped inside the university system. bravo.

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