March 24, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Deji Olukotun's novel Nigerians in Space is an impressive debut, a literary thriller that also deftly explores themes of the African diaspora.
Charles Yu wrote of the book:
"Fast-paced, well-written and packed with insight and humor. Olukotun is a very talented storyteller. "
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Nigerians in Space is a suspense novel that moves across the U.S., Nigeria, Europe, and South Africa. The central premise is that a Nigerian lunar geologist wants to go to the moon and that to get there he first has to steal something from NASA. The second major storyline, which begins in South Africa, involves an abalone smuggler from a small fishing community outside Cape Town. I grew up “binge” listening to music and everything was fair game—Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Guns N' Roses, Carlos Santana, Manu Dibango, the Fugees, the Doors—whatever moved me. I think most people have complex identities like this and that's what I try to explore in the novel.
The Beach Boys – "Sloop John B"
This song is one of the jewels of the album Pet Sounds and it's an arrangement of an old sea shanty. The harmonies are so pure and balanced that it hurts me sometimes. In the opening scene of the novel, Wale, a Nigerian scientist, is in the locker room after a basketball game. His teammate is singing the song in the shower and Wale recognizes the music, helping me anchor the setting as distinctly American and allowing me to show that Wale has been acculturated. He plays basketball instead of soccer and listens to the Beach Boys—yet he still eats Nigerian stew for dinner.
RockArt – "Nuwestraat"
RockArt was a unique collaboration between Cape Town jazz multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder and Alex van Heerden. This track to me represents Thursday Malaysius' evolution as he delves deeper into the illegal and dangerous smuggling trade. Nuwestraat is a stunning electronic piece that is elegiac and optimistic at the same time, reflecting Thursday's generally optimistic outlook in the face of danger.
Zola - "Ibutho"
Thursday's closest friend Leon is the one who gets him into trouble and draws him into the abalone smuggling trade. He's a baller who listens to Kwaito—think hip-hop mixed with African rhythms. This is the song he's grooving to in his Mercedes when he should be looking out to make sure Thursday is safe while diving in the moonlit waters.
DJ Dopplerr – "Cape Town Fringe"
I asked Taiwan-based DJ Dopplerr to create a soundtrack for the abalone storyline in the novel. What he came up with blew my mind—it's like the whole story in five minutes. This creative remix track, which you can listen to on Soundcloud, mixes all of the other elements in the storyline such as Kwaito, Cape Town jazz, sounds of the sea, and South African hip-hop. It's a musical journey in itself. You can listen to it here:
Lila Downs - "Viborita"
This is an upbeat, beautifully orchestrated tune by Mexican-American singer Lila Downs that features a multicultural mix of Latin rhythms and funk. In Nigerians in Space, the character Helen becomes Thursday's lover, and to him she is a confusing mix of Norwegian expatriate and idealistic aid worker. She would listen to music like this that embraces the promise of music moving across borders and cultures, and she would not hear it—as a cynic might—as a song of globalization.
Fela Kuti and Egypt 80 – "Underground System"
This was the track that I listened to as I wrote Nigerians in Space. I had it on as I walked around Cape Town, while I played capoeira, and when I did my laundry. It combines Afrobeat pioneer Fela Ransome Kuti's orchestration, rhythm, passion, and drive for social justice in one kick-ass, 30 minute track. Fela's music would have been in the air when the character Wale left Nigeria for America in the early 1980s in the throes of the military dictatorships. The music might have been too strident for him, but he would recognize Fela's call for a better life and for Nigerians to have the right to pursue their dreams—in Wale's case to go to the moon.
Deji Olukotun and Nigerians in Space links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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