". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Harlem's Afro-Cuban Renaissance PLUS Postmamboism!

From Larry Blumenfeld, and the Village Voice:

"This music has gone underground," Sanabria laments later, between sets. "But I remember when there were 30 different clubs in this city where you could go and hear some mixture of Afro-Cuban tradition and New York jazz." Sanabria, who grew up in the Fort Apache section of the South Bronx, found inspiration back then from such standard-bearing first-generation players as Tito Puente and trumpeter Mario Bauzá. Sanabria teaches at both the Manhattan School of Music and the New School, and he treats the stage as one more classroom: He pauses halfway through one set to acknowledge the name chosen by Bauzá and his brother-in-law, singer and frontman Frank "Machito" Grillo, for their legendary orchestra: Afro-Cubans. "That was an early nod to Africa," he notes, "before it was in fashion." Tonight, Sanabria's own nod is overt and visible: In place of his usual jacket and tie, he wears a black T-shirt emblazoned with, in red, a Kongo cross and the phrase Abre/Kuta/Güiri/Mambo—Kikongo for, very liberally interpreted, "Word up."

The whole band wears the shirts. So does Ned Sublette, the musician and writer holding court at a table nearby, as is his custom nearly every Wednesday night, surrounded by stacks of the T-shirts he designed and copies of his authoritative book, Cuba and Its Music. Both are expressions of what Sublette calls "postmamboism"—"a portable theory that places music at the center of understanding" and "begins with the study of African diaspora musics," as he has explained in a post on "Not deconstruction, not postcolonialism, not subaltern studies, not semiotics itself can boast of a triumph to rival the Postmamboism T-shirt," Sublette writes me in an e-mail.

For Sanabria, the fashion statement just fits: "It means what we say musically: This has deep roots, and it calls for an open mind."
By the way, for those in the know, they have noticed that HBO's Treme is Postmamboist, totally!


K. said...

Out of curiosity, what is New York jazz?

This may be my southern snobbery showing, but I see New York as a great attractor and percolator of music from other cities, regions, and countries, but that has actually contributed little in terms of a New York sound in any genre.

I had thought doo wop at one time, but another blogger corrected me on that score. The Rascals were important to blue-eyed soul -- and to this day the best at it -- but that was derivative in the first place and not unique to New York.

Don't get me wrong: New York is almost as vital to music as Hollywood is to movies, but it's always seemed to me to be mostly a matter of gravity.

Foxessa said...

Well, right up front and center jazz made by latinos is sure New York Jazz.

Ned could describe this better than I can because there's a lot of New York jazz that I really don't like -- the very abstract jazz that you can't dance to, which I think helped kill jazz as a mass enjoyment. I call it squawk and blop.

And um, when it comes to music that comes out of NYC, just for starters -- Broadway? Tin Pan Alley? HipHop?

Love, c.

Foxessa said...

To this day the music that ASCAP and BMI consider 'real music' is show tunes reaching back to minstrel, Yiddish, vaudville, burlesque and Broadway theaters, and what came out of the Brill Building.

That all looks damned influential to me!

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

AND I'm wearing my new white femme baby doll Postmamboist tee-shirt while I type this! AND it looks damned good! So there!

Love, c.

Foxessa said...

Just in case it isn't clear, that last was nothing but high good humor on my part. That is all. :)

Love, c.

Foxessa said...

There really is enormous amounts of music that came out of NYC to sweep the country. A lot of latin music, out of our Puerto Rican brothers an sisters, as witnessed by the Fania All Stars recordings.

Also Julia Ward Howe who wrote the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was born here and lived here much of her life.

So too did Stephen Foster.

Love, C.

K. said...

I getting clobbered here! (Except for the baby doll bit -- that sounds pretty good.)

OK, I'll concede your point, to a point. I still maintain that even in the aggregate and considering hiphop (which my face is still red over having forgotten), New York's contribution is small beer compared to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and folk all coming from the south. (DM would probably tell us that we're both nuts, and that Detroit rules over all.)

Bob Dylan killed Tin Pan Alley. At least that's what he said.

Folk is interesting because while it is derived from Appalachian music, New Yorkers like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie (born in Oklahoma, but lived on Long Island) expanded it and popularized it.

I have completely given up on contemporary Broadway, which from what I’ve heard lacks wit, lyrical sophistication, and melody. I’m definitely a Golden Era guy when it comes to musicals, although there were a few stray decent efforts in 60s and of course Showboat. Ragtime, which I more or less enjoyed, doesn’t hold a candle to the 40s. Les Miz has its moments, Phantom sucks, and while I grasp that Stephen Sondheim is musically advanced, I nonetheless find his work dull to an extreme. There have been some impressive revivals -- Wonderful Town, South Pacific, The King and I, and Kiss Me, Kate, to name some, but the interest in them speaks volumes about the alternative.

What is the genesis of Latin jazz. My uneducated guess is that as Puerto Rican musicians migrated to New York, they heard jazz and immediately seized on its hybrid possibilities.

Foxessa said...

Ha! I told el Vaquero about this so he could be proud that I haven't been living among the most accomplished and educated music people in the world for so long for naught! :)

Genesis of Latin Jazz? Duh. Think. The New World Triad, it consists of which cities? Havana, New York, New Orleans. Which one is the oldest? Havana. Which two are barely 100 sea miles from each other and which two were each other's most important trading partners until 1960? Havana and New Orleans. Read Armstrong's accounts of getting on a ship and going off to Havana for a hot couple of weeks. Repeat with musicians from Havana coming to NO for a hot couple of weeks.

Havana is the great music generator (like the Haitian Revolution was), exploding rhythms and dances into all the rest of the Caribbean and the world, and has been since the 16th century. It still is.

Havana and NYC were each other's most important trading partners in the New World through the 19th century.

You need to read Vaquero's Cuba and Its Music -- and Elijah Wald's How the Beatles Destroyed Roch and Roll.

Musical forms tend not to die, but to transform. So despite the sense that music theater isn't creating new excitement, the tradition has gone into something else, somewhere else, for example. Check out music videos. Long form ones like some that Shakira does, for instance.

As you know I am the last to deny the persistant greatness of black popular music and the traditions that reach back to Africa. This is what had always refreshed ours, and the world's popular musics.

But there's more to it than that -- look at Bob Dylan; he's got a lot influence from the predominately dominated Jewish music theater forms. Woody Guthrie wasn't the only mode he appropriated for his own.

Never ever discount the New York City Jewish influence on American popular music. They dominated the music industry for the entire era of the American Century as we used to know it, until both died together. Think of sheet music, who published, who peddled, who printed, etc.

Love, C

Foxessa said...

There's also punk, yanno. CBGB's, the Ramones, the Glorious Patti Smith.

Love, C.

K. said...

The Sex Pistols were from New York?

Punk is what I was getting at: Invented someplace else, magnified in New York. Punk is a subgenre, anyway.

We both know that New York is the music capital of the world. It's arguable that jazz wouldn't have survived - or at least developed - without the clubs and record labels there. I could probably say the same of blues, although Chicago was and is critical as well. In terms of music, NYC's sheer gravitational pull is astounding. The Big Apple is one of the best examples in the world of the power of diversity.

But -- hiphop excepted -- New York never created the kinds of musical movements that the south did. Even at its peak, the Broadway musical never found creative expression in small towns and cities across the country the way that rock has, for example. It simply exported itself. The Brill building is more complicated, perhaps, but one could argue that the other genres didn't need it and that their contribution to songwriting dwarfed Brill. Just saying.

BTW, I saw one of the Sex Pistols' most legendary shows -- the one Rolling Stone covered at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio. Check it out here and here. When my sons' friends were in their punk phase, they'd practically genuflect when I told them I'd seen this show!

Foxessa said...

I am not qualified to argue this about punk, because, I generally dislike it, in the visceral way I disliked Black Sabbath. There are times though, when one's state of mind is such that only wading through noise that is so loud on so many sonic levels that you can *see* the audio vibrations tremoring around your ankles will do. Thus was L'Amor made and CBGB's.

I spent for better or worse and mostly worse! what a hole! -- enormous amounts of time in CBGB's -- shoot, Ned's band was a regular and played New Year's Eve there three NYEves in a row. Nevertheless, the punk sensibility wasn't mine. But CountryBluesBlueGrass & OtherMusicUnderGround was (well, not bluegrass so much -- banjo music, the quentessential sahellian African instrument brought here by the SeneGambian slaves -- so white people could make black music too).

However, whether it is the Ramones or Sex Pistols that ultimately mattered most in both the U.S. and England -- that argument continues and will continue forever, and honestly I don't give a damn. This is really white people's music -- no rhythm!

What you are arguing is whether NYC has created musical forms that take over. I say they do. They just happen to be, mostly, popular music that neither you nor I personally care for all that much. Shoot, that thang that was Madonna, the Talking Heads -- the world is filled with grrls and boyz who still want to be Madonna and David Byrne circa 1983. But in the past 110 years or so, there have been many. And they are by and large white people's music -- only C&W as white people's music developed outside of NYC.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

In any case the Romones first gig was 1974 and the Sex Pistols was in 1975. The Ramones were organic, while the Sex Pistols were formed by an entrepreneur.

Fwiw, which ain't much -- we were here for both of the SP's legendary NYC gigs. I hated them, the audience, everything, and spent most of my time outside. :)