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June 6, 2018

Gaël Faye's Playlist for His Novel "Small Country"

Small Country

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Gaël Faye's novel Small Country is a powerful debut, and its 10 year-old protagonist who comes of age in a war zone is unforgettable.

Le Figaro wrote of the book:

"This beautiful coming-of-age novel expresses a harrowing yearning for kindness and harmony. The result is a vision of the world—not political, but poetic—that attempts a balancing act between both horror and wonder."

In his own words, here is Gaël Faye's Book Notes music playlist for his debut debut novel Small Country:

This playlist represents some songs that appear in the novel Small Country. I associate my childhood in Burundi with a permanent music background because people used to have small radios and listen to them very loud. When I was writing the book, I listened to some of these songs to help me to regain lost sensations and to captivate my memories of this period.

Makambo, Geoffrey Oryema

At some point, when I was writing my novel, I was stuck with my story. Some days I didn't know how to continue with my characters. So I decided to listen to plenty of African songs from the nineties and "Makambo" of Geoffrey Oryema appeared randomly on my playlist. I had forgotten this song, but instantly the melody and the voice put me in a particular mood and gave me the way to finish my novel. It was almost magical!

Crépuscule des Dieux, Wagner

There is a very strange tradition in Burundi and in some other African countries. When there is a coup, the radio plays classical music. I don't really know why, but probably because it sounds neutral. I remember how the atmosphere was scary during those days when we were confined in our homes, cut from the world, with this music playing outside on all those small radios.

Sambolera, Kadja Nin

Khadja Nin is the most famous Burundian artist. Sambolera was a huge hit, definitely the song of this period because when she released this song during the nineties we heard it all day long on the radio.

The drummers of Burundi

The drummers of Burundi are the permanent soundtrack of Burundi. Every day you can hear the vibrant and stunning sound of their percussion. In this country of hills, the drums reverberate miles around and this very specific rhythm is a part of the daily life.

Maria Valencia, Papa Wemba

Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Franco and the OK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau… were the African popstars during the nineties, famous across the entire continent. Rumba, ndombolo, soukous or sebene were very festive music. In 1994, in Rwanda, the RTLM (also known as the Hate Radio) called their auditors to murder Tutsi between two songs of Congolese music. This young and commercial radio was an important tool in the organization of the genocide. In an episode of my novel, I recount this situation, this mix of fun and horror.

Ancien Combattant, Zao

"Ancien combattant" is more than a song; it's a masterpiece of intellect, a manifesto against war. It's the story of a veteran who sings about the horror of war, but with humor. Ironically, I remember that the radio played this song during the war in Burundi in 1995. In my novel, the character of Pacifique sings it during his brother's burial.

Petit Marie, Francis Cabrel

Burundi is a former Belgian colony, and during the nineties we used to listen to a lot of music with French lyrics. Many of those songs were quite cheesy, talking naively of love and sadness. Francis Cabrel, Joe Dassin, Dalida, Mike Brant… were very popular and we all knew those songs by heart.

Petit Pays, Gaël Faye

Petit Pays means Small Country. This is one of my songs, which I recorded in Bujumbura few years before I wrote my novel.  All the topics I address in my novel… Burundi, Rwanda, exile, war, childhood, nostalgia… were already in this song like a premonition.

Gaël Faye and Small Country links:

BookPage review
Kirkus review

New York Times profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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