August 21, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Tanwi Nandini Islam's novel Bright Lines is an amazing debut, a poignant and profound coming of age story unforgettably set in Brooklyn.
The Denver Post wrote of the book:
"A Brooklyn-by-way-of-Bangladesh Royal Tenenbaums. A pot-tinged, PTSD Muslim Sesame Street. With sex. Hallucinations, hijabs and handlebars on the always-busy Atlantic Avenue. The New York sense of place in Bright Lines rivals the recent memory of Teju Cole's Open City."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Bright Lines is the story told from the point of view of three people: Anwar, a middle-aged Bangladeshi apothecary; Ella, a gardening, gender queer college student and Anwar's niece; Charu, a fashion design-boy-obsessed-freshman-to-be at NYU. Since I only focused on one character's POV on any given day, the breadth of music in the Bright Lines playlist is the syncretic Brooklyn the novel imagines. The collision of genres –-from Ethiopian jazz, roots reggae, 90s R&B, indie rock, Indian prayer music and classical minimalism – mimics the multitude of voices and places in the novel.
"Tezeta" - Mulatu Astatke, as well as Ethiopiques, Vol. 4 : Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale
Tezeta, which means nostalgia, longing in Amharic, is a style of music in Ethiopia. There's a particular memory painting that happens when I listen to Mulatu's version of "Tezeta." Perhaps it's the way the saxophone and piano are layered to strike a hidden away longing. There's a grainy softness that recalls a Polaroid, a worn out love letter. I imagine my characters Anwar Saleem and Bic Gnarls playing Ethiopian Jazz when they get high on their favorite kush. While Bic may have introduced Anwar to the music, the melodic call to the past appeals to him, as it does to me.
"We Need Love" - Johnny Osborne and “Hold onto What You've Got” by Dennis Brown
Both Osborne and Brown's voices are laced with wisdom and reverence for the great unknown. My character Ella's insomnia only has one cure: Lovers Rock. This style of reggae is for the romantics, but the two songs are etched with so much longing and love, that they seem to be the perfect antidote for her lovesickness. There's a summer vibe that captures the events in Bright Lines, and summer is the season that I started writing the novel.
"X- Factor" Lauryn Hill, from the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
“You Don't Show No Love” – Erykah Badu, from Baduizm
“Be Happy” – Mary J. Blige, from My Life
These three tunes are the anthems of my adolescence. Tears shed for ne'er do well boys from the suburbs, the plight of being a nerdy girl, the desire to escape. As the heart of Bright Lines is the triumvirate of Ella, Charu and Maya, these songs let me channel the lovelorn angst of yesterday.
"Vandanaa Trayee" - Ravi Shankar, from Chants of India
This is my meditation song, listened to before morning coffee and bowl of berries. The drone of these chants, the escape into Sanskrit, lets me get lost in my thoughts. I've always thought that hearing words in another language (a language I don't know) allows my imagination to work in ways it can only when I'm being stimulated, but without concrete understanding. In “Vandanaa Trayee,” each Om takes me to outer space, ocean, past and future.
"Staring at the Sun" TV on the Radio, from Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
The epigraph for Part II, “The Black Forest” has a gorgeous line from this song, which has stayed with me – Note the trees, because the dirt is temporary – it is a reminder, a call to be present. Looking upward we see the expanse of field and forest; if we keep our heads down in the dirt we miss everything.
"Ritual Union" - Little Dragon, from Ritual Union and “Feather” from Machine Dreams
Little Dragon is a band I fell in love with as I started the novel, and years and records later, I'm still in love. There's a collision of sounds in their music, a retro-futuristic soundscape navigated by the sweet-voiced Yukimi Nagano. It's sexy music, happy music, dance music and work music all in one.
Music for 18 Musicians, Steve Reich Ensemble
Ultimate revision music, perfect to fill the void when only solitude will do. I've gotten pretty good at locking myself away to write. This record is about possibility, of journeying to the end. There's a cinematic quality to Steve Reich's beautifully rendered composition, which lets me see what I'm writing.
Tanwi Nandini Islam and Bright Lines links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
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