Do you listen to music when you read? If you do, what kind of music goes well with the books you read?
I like many different genres of music – Neo-soul / Soul (think Raphael Saadiq, Georgia Muldrow, Jill Scott, Bilal, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Sade etc), Jazz (think Robert Glasper, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane etc), Rap/Hip hop (think The Roots, J-Hus, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, Noname, Sa-Ra, J Dilla etc), R&B (think Faith Evans, The Internet, Moonchild, Res, The Foreign Exchange etc), Highlife (think Ebo Taylor, Osibisa, Kwadwo Antwi), Afrobeats (think Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, R2Bees, KiDi, Davido, Simi), I could go on and on!
I prefer reading in silence, but when I listen to music while reading, I like to listen to music without any words (especially not Rap), just so the words being sung don’t jumble with the words I read. Music has always been a form of storytelling. I love vibing to the beats and rhythms of music, but once I pay close attention to the lyrics of a song, I’m opened up to a new world.
Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what songs or albums would go well with some of the great novels, short story collections, magazines, poems I’ve read in recent years. I asked Hakeem Adam (who’s knowledge in ALL things Black culture and the arts is vast!), the founder of Dandano – a Digital platform dedicated to the distilled love of African Film and Music, to help me pair some great songs and albums to great literature.
Enjoy our final pairings below!
Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman – Comfort Woman by Me’shell Ndegeocello
In this phenomenal collection of eleven stories, Brit-Somali writer & visual artist – Diriye Osman, incorporates lots of Neo-Soul (my ultimate favorite music genre) and old school Hip-Hop music into his stories. He refers to Me’shell Ndegeocello’s 2003 soul album, Comfort Woman in about three of the stories, so I just had to purchase her album after I read this collection!
‘Come smoke my herb
Make your heart like the ocean
Your mind like the clear blue sky’
(lyrics from Come Smoke My Herb from album- Comfort Woman)
The song Come Smoke My Herb in particular pairs excellently with Osman’s liberating collection. The dreamy instrumentals take you to another planet with Me’shell’s soothing voice. Comfort Woman is such a ‘feel good’ album that can be played back-to-back to help anyone relax and feel free! In the same way, readers around the world will find solace in Fairytales for Lost Children as Diriye Osman’s stories speak on being true to yourself, following your heart and the universal human need to love one another, regardless of sexual orientation, race, occupation, religion – by Darkowaa.
Check out the book review for Fairytales for Lost Children
Listen to Me’shell Ndegeocello’s Comfort Woman
Blackass by Igoni Barret – Fantastic Man by William Onyeabor
William Onyaebor, despite being a mystery man is one of the most brilliant African electronic musicians. His story is weird and almost unbelievable, but not as unbelievable as Ignoi Barret’s Blackass. The Lagosian remix of Kafka’s Metamorphoses is the kind of book you love and hate and love all at the same time. The writer engages the simple mechanics of Kafka’s classic to engineer a riveting story about race and colorism in modern Nigerian society. Similarly, William Onyaebor also transformed the not so simple mechanics of the Moog synthesizer to redefine how electronic music was created.
In both pieces of art, there exists this mystery that marries them – where William Onyeabor’s brilliance and life in general has been a source of fuel for myth makers in the music world, Ignoni Barret’s main character lives an even greater myth, defying logic yet remaining real enough for us to identify with and appreciate – by Hakeem Adam, founder of Dandano.
Listen to/ watch William Onyeabor’s Fantastic Man
No Disrespect by Sister Souljah – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
Sister Souljah’s memoir, No Disrespect (published in 1995) and Lauryn Hill’s debut solo album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (released in 1998) are both classics, in my opinion! My dad got me Lauryn Hill’s album back in year 2000 and I’ve kept it safe ever since! Hill’s album pairs well with Souljah’s memoir as they both speak on love found and love lost while exploring the growing pains & joys of Black womanhood.
[image via @africanbookaddict on Bookstagram]
While songs like Ex Factor and Forgive Them Father deal with heartbreak and betrayal, Souljah vividly takes readers through bitter heartbreaks as she vicariously lives through her mother’s numerous, toxic relationships as well as her own heartbreaks from the married men she naively entertained. More intimate tracks like Nothing Even Matters feat (my favorite!) D’Angelo pair well with Souljah’s bold, explicit descriptions of her physical features and her intimate interactions with the men who miseducate her on love and life – by Darkowaa.
Listen to Hill’s debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – Ctrl by SZA
One thing Emezi’s debut Freshwater and SZA’s Ctrl album have in common is how angsty their masterpieces are.
Akwaeke Emezi and SZA’s work may not be for everyone, but I personally found solace in reading/listening to how prevalent anxiety and insecurity are among women my age (late twenties). While Emezi explores the difficulties of loving and accepting oneself in Freshwater through Ada’s character, the songs on SZA’s Ctrl openly speak on the many issues we 20-something women face in the dating world today, growing pains, vulnerability, self-esteem, self love (or lack thereof) and femininity, which I truly resonate with. SZA’s relatable messages coupled with catchy melodies are what keep me going back to re-listen to songs like 20 Something, Supermodel, Broken Clocks, Gina etc.
‘How could it be?
20 something, all alone still
Not a phone in my name
Ain’t got nothin’, runnin’ from love
Only know fear
That’s me, Ms. 20 Something
Ain’t got nothin’, runnin’ from love
Wish you were here, oh’
‘Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you, but I need you, but I need you’
Both Emezi and SZA do a great job of bolding exploring how we all battle with ‘other selves’ within us – in the form of our blended temperaments, alter egos and moods, through embracing vulnerability – by Darkowaa.
Check out the book review for Freshwater
Listen to SZA’s Ctrl
As The Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo – Find Your Free by Ria Boss
There is something beautiful about the technique of vignetting, especially in literature, by presenting a glimpse of an image and allowing the reader to wander. In Véronique Tadjo’s deeply poetic collection of vignettes that is As the Crow Flies, you flip through these loosely knit images around love and loss.
In some way, Ria Boss’ debut EP – Find Your Free, also presents sonic vignettes that could easily flow in the same rhythm as the stories in Tadjo’s book. The deeply soulful singer/songwriter bares out intimate truths about life, love and survival. Her lyrics weave trinkets of poetic gold as she creates a warm and fuzzy mood to aid her own healing. Just like in Tadjo’s book, Ria’s vignettes are layered, revealing more detail, the harder you interact with the songs – by Hakeem Adam, founder of Dandano.
Check out the book review for As The Crow Flies
Listen to Ria Boss’ Find Your Free
What are some of your favorite book-music pairings? I’d love some book-music pairing recommendations, or any good music you think goes well with reading!