July 10, 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.
Land of Love and Drowning is a brilliant debut novel that expertly explores the folklore and history of the U.S. Virgin Islands through the stories of three generations of its inhabitants.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Through the voices and lives of its native people, Yanique offers an affecting narrative of the Virgin Islands that pulses with life, vitality, and a haunting evocation of place."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
From Broadway to Reggae
Music in Land of Love and Drowning
In my mind this novel is about nationhood and romantic love. As often is with nation building or love building, music is present as catalyst and reflection. The music is from the time period in which the book is set, which is the first have of 1900s. There wasn't really TV in the Virgin Islands, where Land of Love and Drowning is set, until the second half of the century but there was always a radio going. Virgin Islanders had access to the outside world through music, so the music of the book is reflective of the local scene but also of what was happening in the rest of the region and in the United States. A lot of the music in the book is also the music that played in my house when growing up. So while this might be the sound track for my first novel, it's also I now realize, the soundtrack to my childhood.
Falling in love is wonderful. So goes the song written by Irving Berlin for the 1946 Broadway show, Annie Get Your Gun. Like Broadway music of the time it's a big song, allowing for full-throated yet soft beauty. This is the actual song that my grandparents fell in love to. In the novel, two of my main characters, Anette a local girl and Jacob, just returned from serving in World War II, dance to this song on the first night they meet.
The song is recorded by numerous luminaries of the time, including Frank Sinatra.
Sarah Vaughan's version is rich and soulful with slightly different lyrics. Really, her version is so re-imagined it might not even be the same song at all. Jacob plays this version because he prefers hearing the romantic lyrics from the voice of a woman. He can pretend he's hearing Anette.
"Lagrimas Negras" by Bebo Valdez
Because of its proximity and outsized cultural production, Puerto Rico has always been influential on the Virgin Islands. In Land of Love and Drowning, Anette quotes a Puerto Rican bolero when she is wooing Jacob. The line, "anegando en mis llanto," which means 'drowning in my tears', echoes with one of the book’s physical metaphors—the island of Anegada. But…the line is not from an actual song. Unless, of course, someone wants to go ahead and use it (go ahead!) and write a brand new bolero.
One very popular and very real bolero is "Lagrimas Negras." It is about crying one’s eyes out over a love that society forbids…which is what unbeknownst to them, is about to be what Anette and Jacob will be facing.
This song is in the quelbe musical tradition. Quelbe is a music native to the Virgin Islands. It's sometimes called scratch band music and is generally played with instruments made by hand, like washboards. This song in particular is a protest song based on a true story. As the story goes a carousel owner, Mr. La Bega, didn’t pay his workers enough money. So the entire community decided to boycott. But they couldn’t just not go to the carousel, because that had been too much fun. So they boycott by having more fun—drinking in the street all night long! In Land of Love and Drowning this song announces the B.O.M.B. protests that happen on the beaches.
Yup. The yummy drink is immortalized in song here. Rum is the Caribbean's liquor. We grew the sugarcane and made the molasses and barreled the liquid. For a long time rum was one of the Virgin Islands's most important industries. Now we have the great and award winning Cruzan Rum, but we used to have many distilleries. This song was a bit hit in the Caribbean and eventually even a big hit in New York City. Before the 1970s it was pretty usual for black singer-songwriters to find their songs suddenly being sung by white performers. Even music was segregated in the US. Radio stations catered to either black or white audiences, there wasn't much cross over. So it was easy for songs to get stolen and black performers didn’t have much power to fight this. So went Rum and Coca Cola, which even our modern internet mostly thinks was created and first performed by The Andrew Sisters. In Land of Love and Drowning the Lord Invader version plays at the party where Anette and Jacob first meet. Later in the novel the Andrew Sister’s version plays while Anette and her husband dance in front of the movie cameras.
This reggae song doesn’t appear in Land of Love and Drowning at all. I'm cheating now. It’s only just come out this year and so it and my novel share a birth year. But in so many ways this song gives the tone and vibe of my book—even its video does, too! The video is full of the lush landscape (the Rain Forest, the beaches) and cameos of various types of Virgin Islanders…school teachers, fishermen, business owners, and artists. Pressure is from the Virgin Islands and this song, like Land of Love and Drowning, celebrates the natural environment of the islands as well as the human beings that contribute to making it a place of beauty.
Tiphanie Yanique and Land of Love and Drowning links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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weekly music release lists