In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
HM Naqvi’s novel The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack is inventive, fun, and wholly evocative of its setting, Karachi.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
“A love story, a caper, a family dust-up, a farce—prizewinning Pakistani writer Naqvi’s second novel offers all these things, yet they matter less than its lovingly evoked milieu, the uniquely vibrant neighborhoods and characters, culture, history, architecture, and aromas of the city. Infused with the spirit of Tristram Shandy, a sophisticated shaggy dog story for those happy to take the slow road and its many detours.”
Abdullah the Cossack, my three-hundred-something-pound septuagenarian hero, is the scion of a family that owned and operated the best jazz joint this side of the Suez once upon a time. The Shadow Lounge was frequented by those who “knew their Bird from Beiderbecke.” Jazz was big in Karachi in the old days – the likes of Dizzy Gillespie famously sold out concerts downtown. Consequently, Abdullah digs jazz. And since he came of age in the late Sixties, he’s also into late rock-and-roll. In more recent times, he developed an appreciation for qawwali or “Muslim soul” – a genre popular across the northern swath of the Subcontinent. Since there is some Abdullah in me and some me in Abdullah, however, I will also include some tracks that I played in the background while transcribing his voice on the page late into the night. He’s not the boss of me.
1) Tito Puente’s Take Five
Early on, Abdullah attempts to distill the experience of taking in “Take Five” in the context of Karachi, a city by the sea: “‘Take Five’ is like you are flying, arms extended, inhaling the beach…on a cool December evening, duddud-duddud-da-da-da, duddud-duddud-da-da-da. You see floodlights lighting up loping camels, and miniature families huddled around miniature stalls preparing corn on charcoal. If you are lucky, you see a woman dancing in the surf, her wispy aquamarine dupatta fluttering in the breeze.” There’s a version for everybody, everywhere: Dave Brubeck’s original, Chet Atkins mellow rendition, Herbie Hanock’s muscular one, not to mention Al Jarreau’s delightfully wacky spoken-work composition. I for one am partial to Tito Puente’s.
2) Theolonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud”
I must include Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” from the album Underground – it’s so much goddamn fun. Who the hell is Bud? And what happens next? (For the record, I could add Dexter Gordan’s “Tanya” or Lee Morgan’s “The Gigolo” – jaunty numbers quicken the pulse and animate the spirit, but both Abdullah and I have other interests than jazz…).
3) Lee Moses’ “Bad Girl”
My “gloriously unaccomplished” hero considers launching himself off his balcony upon realizing he has turned seventy and led a “fallow life,” but is saved by the gaze of a mysterious lady ambling down the street outside his dilapidated mansion. Lee Moses’ “Bad Girl” comes to mind (though I suspect the Cossack might have picked Cliff Richard’s arguably apt “Devil Woman” instead). Such a resonant voice, such a moving track.
4) The Zombies’ Time of the Season
Old Cossack cannot remember the last time he’d attracted the attention of the fairer sex. He is stirred by the cursory consideration, and what better number of the time evokes the sensation than “Time of the Season,” – “a veritable classic,” he’d aver.
5) Frankie Valli’s “The Night”
Like me, Abdullah reads and writes at night. “I have lived,” he declaims, “oft thrived at night…Carpe Diem? No, Carpe Noctis!” Frankie Valli’s “The Night” is perhaps the most appropriate number for the purpose of this exercise (but, for the record, I will note that his epic disco era “Soul and Heaven” is also a personal favorite.)
6) Future Islands’ “Sun in the Morning”
There are days when one has difficulty dragging one’s self out of bed in the morning. Abdullah has known to spend days in bed, marinating in misery. This lovely number can do the trick for me.
7) Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan”
Since I came to Cohen relatively late – late Eighties, early Nineties – I usually prefer relatively later Cohen (but not very late Cohen), in particular, “I’m Your Man” and the “Future.” “First We Take Manhattan” is a fast, tense listen, alluding to some forgotten fight, battle, certain grit. You need grit to embark on a novel, grit to complete one.
8) Flaming Lips’ “Flight Test”
Yoshimi’s valor in the face of a material or figurative foe has always been inspiring, though who know what Yoshimi Battles The Robots is really about? It sounds to me like a soundtrack of movie that was never made. The refrain from “Flight Test,” the first number, has great resonance: “I don’t where the sun beams end/ and the star lights begin – it’s all a mystery.” (It recalls another great Flaming track that goes, “You realize the sun doesn’t go down/ It’s just an illusion by the world spinning around.”) It always gets me.
9) Fire Inc.’s Nowhere Fast
At this juncture, I must insert a single from the real soundtrack of a forgotten film, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire. It’s a rousing number, a classic from the canon of Eighties pop, and might suggest the trajectory of my protagonist. (If you want more, there’s “Tonight is What it Means to Be Young” or Dan Hartman’s evergreen “I Can Dream About You.)
10) The Knife’s “Pass This On”
A melodious number by a moody Swedish all-female band features a fantastic video starring an attractive transvestite attempting to rouse a languid audience in some community space somewhere in Swedish archipelago. It’s not only a must listen but a must watch.
11) Sanam Marvi’s “Ith Nahin”
Known as a folk singer, Sanam Marvvi took the airwaves in Pakistan and India by storm with “Ith Nahin,” a spiritually inflected number included in the Coke Studio sessions a few years ago. The Selected Works can be read literally but I like to think it can also be read as a religious allegory that contends with the proverbial Fall from Grace.
The origins of qawwali can be traced back a millennium to Delhi. The form continues to exert influence over the northern swath of the Subcontinent. Although not strictly qawwali, “Kangna” is a composition that contends in part with unrequited love.
13) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s (and Michael Brook’s) Sweet Pain (Remix)
Before he died at 49, the three-hundred-something-pound Khan was the reigning heavyweight of qawwali and Pakistan’s leading cultural export: his voice and work has been featured in soundtracks from The Last Temptation of Christ to Dead Man Walking to Natural Born Killers. He can still be heard on every street in Pakistan, from malls to tea stalls. (I would have liked to include some traditional qawwalis – say, the Sabri Brothers’ “Saray Lankan Mankan,” “Ya Mohammed Noor-e-Majasam” – but the tracks might not up the uninitiated’s alley).
14) Lisa Stanfield’s I’m Leavin’ (Hex Hector Mix)
Because we should end on a high note, I must include this final anthem, an assertion of independence. (I could have also included old favorites such as The Supermen Lovers’ “Starlight” and KLF’s “Justified and Ancient,” or newer ones like Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind (Hex Hector Mix) or the Gnarls Barkley-Paul Oakenfold collaboration, “Fallin’,” but we all have to wake up in the morning.)
HM Naqvi and The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack 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
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film’s soundtracks)
weekly music release lists