Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Other Cuban Triangle, or Can you do the Postmambo?

Before I began writting El Yuma, I only regularly read two blogs: Yoani Sanchez's Generacion Y and Phil Peters' blog The Cuban Triangle

Phil's great idea was to blog about the contentious and often antagonistic relationship among the three cities that most impact Cuban-U.S. politics (for better or worse):

La Habana

La Pequeña Habana (aka, Miami) and

Washington, D.C.

That's the Cuban triangle we know best - but mostly because of current geopolitics and modern migration patterns.  However there's another, older, deeper Cuban triangle.  Or two...

One is what ethno-musicologists like Ned Sublette call "The Fertile Crescent": Haiti, Cuba, and Louisiana.

The other Cuban Triangle is the subject of a new course that starts today that Ned and I are team-teaching this semester at Baruch College:


Ned and I share a fascination with the history and rich musical culture of each of these cities and an interest in the many connections among them.  For those of you who don't know Ned or his work, he is an ethnomusicologist, músico, singer-songwriter, radio and music producer, author/historian, political pundit, Ned's-lister (kind of like a blogger whose posts have a shorter shelf-life but a more narrowly defined audience), all-around roots music guru, and now most importantly a Postmamboist extraorinaire!


In fact, our class could easily be renamed simply, "NED 101," given the fact that it is the formal rolling out of the "Postmamboist method" and due to the fact that three of our six books were written by the man himself (see below for the list and links).  You can click here to read the full text of Ned's "Principles of Postmamboism" to see if you too are a Postmamboist.  But for a shortened version, keep reading...:

"Postmamboism is a portable theory that places music at the center of understanding and uses music to interrogate other fields of study.

"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 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 grew out of informal conversations among scholars and practitioners in Havana, New Orleans, New York, and other capitals of the Afro-Atlantic world.

"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."
Gotta love anyone who can use the word "hyperpolysyllabicism" correctly and sarcastically at the same time.

And who doesn't want "to celebrate carnival in infinitely varying forms"?

Two fellow travellers on this postmamboist road are surely salsero MisterBryans (whose music blog is here) and scholar Lisandro Perez, whose new book should hit the presses soon, "Cubans in Gotham: Immigrants, Exiles, and Revolution in Nineteenth-Century New York"  (New York University Press, Spring 2010).

Here's the list of the books we are using - 3 memoirs, 3 histories, and lots of music and videos in between:

HAVANA
Dancing With Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution. Alma Guillermoprieto. New York: Pantheon, 2004.

Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Ned Sublette. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2004.

Go here for a radio interview with Ned about Cuban music on The Takeaway.


NEW ORLEANS
The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans. Ned Sublette. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2009.

More on Flood available here, here, here, and here.

If you read this great and mind-blowing book, you've got to go to this website which provides a detailed "listening guide" to all the many songs Ned discusses in the book.
The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. Ned Sublette. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2008.

For more on Ned and New Orleans go to the following links: A NOLA photo essay from 2005, "The Year Before the Flood," an extended interview along with more of Ned's fantastic photos at Bomb, Ned playing the guitar, and the New York Times Book Review of The World that Made New Orleans.

NEW YORK
One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets. Bliss Broyard. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2008.

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.


Finally, no post about Mr. Sublette would be complete if I did not mention that he is the songwriter behind the Willie Nelson hit of a few years ago, "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly..."


There's a lot of great stuff on line about this wonderful country song which Ned wrote back in the early '80s during the worst of the Urban Cowboy blight.  Go here to listen to Willie's version of the song, go here for Ned's version, here for the lyrics, and here for a Dallas Morning News article about the reaction the song provoked when Nelson released it.

To give you an idea, here are the opening lines:

"There's many a strange impulse out on the plains of West Texas;
There's many a young boy who feels things he don't comprehend.
Well small town don't like it when somebody falls between sexes,
No, small town don't like it when a cowboy has feelings for men."

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