Mambo Night/Clubbing: A Form of Religion?

One of the most popular clubbing events in Singapore is Mambo Jambo, held every Wednesday at Zouk. The mixture of mostly retro hits, coupled with the unique dance moves assigned based on the lyrics of songs, seem to draw the crowd weekly. These dance moves, which mostly utilize the upper body, are learnt when rookie clubbers mimic the seasoned ones, who stand on podiums.

Mambo Jambo seems to meet Durkheim’s definition of a religious experience even though there is no God involved. When people congregate together for Mambo night, they experience a temporary high from the alcohol and dancing that builds up to form a collective effervescence. It is in this setting that people are not bothered by whether they are professionals or blue collar workers. Everyone in the club is just collectively known as “clubbers” and this differentiates them from their profane secular everyday life whereby people are segregated according to race, professions or wealth. There is even a ritual that represents the concept of ‘Mambo’, whereby there are standardised dance moves for each particular song, and this connects us with the stranger that is beside us dancing according to the lyrics of the song.

Perhaps the dance floor can be considered a totem as it is that that distinguishes a club from other forms of night entertainment. It represents the place whereby people can identify with other like-minded individuals. When one is at the dance floor during Mambo night, it shows that the individual is ready to conform with the crowd, shedding his/her own individuality in the profane life to be part of this bigger group of ‘clubbers’ doing the same set of actions. More importantly, the dance floor signifies fun and enjoyment. People get intoxicated, forget about their troubles and just let their hair down at that particular moment in time. In this sense, the dance floor is a kind of totem that symbolises the qualities that clubbing or Mambo Jambo stands for. These so called rituals and totems serve to increase the social solidarity formed between clubbers as it allows strangers from all walks of life to come together every week and experience a temporary uplifting of their spirits, not unlike the religious, transcendent world of the sacred.

However, like most major religions, Mambo Jambo not only increases social cohesion, but also reinforces social inequality. An example of this is tied to the fact that ladies get free entry into the club on Mambo nights. On the surface this might seem to be according them superiority, but a deeper analysis of this shows that letting females enter for free is just a ploy to attract more male clubbers. This way of using females as bait shows that they are merely being subordinated for male’s desires.

In conclusion, Mambo Jambo can be considered a religious experience according to Durkheim as there is collective effervescence on the dance floor. At the same time, it also supports the fact that religion reinforces social inequality as seen in conflict theories.

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About Junyi

Having graduated with a Bachelors in Arts with Honours, I traverse the fluff-covered, sometimes pretentious world of the arts, yet would like to think that I'm down to earth, doing things like sipping hot tea at kopitiams and sitting behind a desk during office hours. This website is a portfolio of the writing that I feel can be "aired in public" (and then some). I would like to one day be a journalist for all things lifestyle. Or a full time singer. Or a world-weary traveler. Or a clown. Feel free to look through and leave your thoughts.
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