January 12, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In her blurb for Trinie Dalton's new short story collection, Baby Geisha, Eileen Myles insightfully referred to the book as a "travelogue." Though the characters travel physically, the true journeys are inward, and Dalton's minimalist prose exposes their complicated inner landscapes with irony and wit.
Bookforum wrote of the book:
"Half ingenuous and half wily, winningly hard to pin down. The result is a kind of everyday fantastic. Dalton nails the Walserian trick of evincing a sincerity nearly indistinguishable from irony. The effect is a poised instability, more uncanny than the magic the stories sometimes describe."
The stories in Baby Geisha may read like regular ol' tales to most, but believe it or not they were structurally and compositionally flavored by the elaborate, hypnotic and repetitive rhythms inherent to Western, Northern, and Sub-Saharan African music. Though countries like Mauritania, Senegal, Ghana, Niger, Mali, Benin, Nigeria and Chad have widely varying vocal and instrumental traditions, there is a sense of real forward movement in music from those countries—as I saw one Mauritanian woman say in a documentary about Fez, Morocco's Sacred Music Festival, that their music reflects nomadism: they used to sing to get their camels to hike faster. I wouldn't presume to say that applies to all those musics but the continuous, circular beat cycles seem to imply never-ending action. Now, of course, electric guitars and gourds may be hammered side-by-side (see the Etran Finitawa youtube clip below), but it's still for heavy groove purpose. My first forays into this stuff years ago came through Juju and Highlife, when I heard heavyweights like King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Fela Kuti rocking for up to 30-minutes per song. Then, lucky for America came an influx of Nigerian and Ghanian compilations and re-releases, like Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos or Ghana Sound: Modern Highlife Afrosounds and Ghanian Blues 1968-1981. If you're new to it all, start browsing the Soundways and Analog Africa labels for gems.
Emulating song structures in my stories is not a new process for me. In "Wide Eyed" I cited actual song lyrics (by Pavement, Flaming Lips, Donovan) that informed the writing, and "Sweet Tomb" was camp, an ode to glam disco and glam metal: Roxy Music & Brian Eno, E.L.O. & The Move, Bowie, Alice Cooper & Iggy Pop. For "Baby Geisha," I wanted to let the musical rhythms infect the stories subtly and indirectly to get closer to the ways these African songs operate. For example, some of the stories in Baby Geisha terminate in odd places for (hopefully) extended resonance: in "Jackpot I" Pandora is left "treading water," while in "Jackpot II," Florencita is combing mud for coinage with a metal detector. I tried to implant image patterns throughout the book that would serve as circuits that story groupings could plug into. For example, rivers act as settings in "Wet Look," "The Perverted Hobo" and "Escalator Into the Ganges." In "Escape Mushroom Style" and "Baby Geisha," narrators are heading home from roadtrips, thus the plot conclusions remain unascerntainable to emulate the ways these songs below have repetitive hooks to not just get the listener to dance, but as meditative devices that help the melodies and rhythms stick after the song is technically over. Since the stories don't directly correlate song-for-story, I'll list some key tunes that were on heavy rotation during the making of Baby Geisha. And come to think of it, Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe make appearances here so it's really all-out, Pan African goodness.
1. "Alasidi" by Afel Boucoum: Mali (Alkibar)
2. "Nouakchott" by Mouna Mint Dendenni: Mauritania (Maadeny)
3. "Orere Elejigbo" by Lijadu Sisters: Nigeria (Double Trouble)
4. "Cler Achel" by Tinariwen: Sahara (Aman Iman: Water is Life)
5. "Iguefan" by Etran Finitawa: Niger (Desert Crossroads)
8. "Kafuulu Balu" by Kasai Allstars: Congo (Kasai Allstars)
9. "Assibavi" by Orchestre Poly-Rhthmo de Cotonou: Benin (Volume One: The Vodoun Effect)
10. "Matutu Mirika" by Eric Agyeman: Ghana (Highlife Safari)
11. "Fanta Bouram"a by Djeli Mourady: Mali (Tales of African Guitar Kings)
Trinie Dalton and Baby Geisha links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists