Author Playlists

Ore Agbaje-Williams’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Three of Us”

“The thing about The Three of Us is that a lot of the tension comes in the silent more internal moments, but the other thing is that Nigerians, the subject of my book, are very expressive and therefore have a lot of thoughts and feelings that are perfectly expressed through music.”

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, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Ore Agbaje-Williams’s novel The Three of Us is a poignant debut, a skillfully told examination of marriage and identity in three voices.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

“As short and sharp as a pairing knife . . . Agbaje-Williams writes in a fluid, conversational style that dissolves paper and ink into sound waves. . . . The novel is so theatrical in its structure and immediacy that the moment you finish reading it, you’ll imagine you actually heard it. . . . This comédie à trois moves along so briskly and with such sly wit that it’s easy to overlook how the novel teases issues of class and race. . . . Deliciously wicked.”

In her own words, here is Ore Agbaje-Williams’s Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Three of Us:

The thing about The Three of Us is that a lot of the tension comes in the silent more internal moments, but the other thing is that Nigerians, the subject of my book, are very expressive and therefore have a lot of thoughts and feelings that are perfectly expressed through music. This playlist could have been a list of Afrobeats songs by Nigerian artists, but I thought that would be playing it a little safe, and there are so many songs that encapsulate the thoughts and feelings that the wife, the husband and the best friend, Temi have about each other and a broader range of genres I think better serve the multitudes that they’re made of too. From UK Grime to classical music, modern jazz to RnB, the songs here are just the tip of the iceberg that make up what could very well be the soundtrack to a screen adaptation. It could also have been a 12-hour playlist if I hadn’t reigned myself – what can I say, the possibilities are endless!

Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet, Op. 62, Act 1, Scene 2: Dance of the Knights

Think a Mercutio and Tybalt type stand-off between Temi and the husband, except their swords are underhanded comments and the ~ potentially ~ fatal comment from Ms. Temi at the end. I can also see some wine being thrown across the table in slow motion at the climax of this epic piece and the wife’s face of quiet alarm. Classical music always says so much without using any words and the relationship (or lack of a healthy one) between Temi and the husband is much the same.

Nicholas Britell – Succession Main Title Theme

The husband is tradition and goal-oriented, so this feels very much like the kind of music he’d play on the way to work or in the gym to get himself hyped up for the day. If he took that BuzzFeed quiz he’d probably identify most closely to Tom Wambsgans. Read into that what you will…

Solange – Mad ft. Lil Wayne

So much beauty can be found in Solange’s music and so many multitudes deciphered, which is why I think this very calm melody is perfect to describe both Temi’s bubbling hatred of the husband and her disappointment in her indecisive friend. ‘We were all rooting for you!’ I hear her inner Tyra Banks say.

Little Simz – Woman ft. Cleo Sol

‘Woman’ should have been the titular track on the girls’ trip playlist of that annual holiday Temi and the wife never went on. Instead the wife probably listens to it after her husband has left the house and Temi is just about to come over to get into that strong Nigerian woman mood.

Giggs – Talkin the Hardest

Both Temi and the husband can probably relate to this Giggs song. It’s less about convincing themselves that they are no.1 and making sure everyone in their immediate vicinity knows that they are! What’s Nigerian, rich, annoyed and unwaveringly confident in their correctness? Both of them.

Skepta – That’s Not Me ft. JME

Were I to write a slogan to go on a t-shirt for Temi it would say ‘I Am Not The One To Play With’. She doesn’t mess around when it comes to her friends and they know as much. Similarly ‘That’s Not Me’ with the rhetoric that Skepta is unlike anyone else and therefore cannot be compared in any similar categories defines Temi perfectly. She cannot tolerate being treated like everyone else therefore she won’t be.

Nina Simone – Feeling Good

If I was a betting woman I would put good money on this being the song Temi plays on the Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen whilst her friend and her friend’s husband have a wordless face-off at the end of the book. She is nothing if not efficient and this song embodies her successful accomplishments perfectly. I can also see her sipping from her over-full wineglass as the horns come in and Nina sings ‘…and I’m feeling good.’

Amy Winehouse – You Know I’m No Good

The wife is complicated, and for every joke Temi makes at her husband’s expense that she laughs at, there is probably a moment – internally – in which she feels a little guilt (or does she?) for the situation in which she has placed her husband. But then again, he’s a man with a functioning brain, so he could have chosen someone else, no? Does she have some regrets herself? Maybe: ‘I cheated myself / Like I knew I would / I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good’. In the words of Justin Timberlake ‘I think that she knows’. Deep down, he probably does too.

Lianne La Havas – Bittersweet (Full Length)

A lot of men (and some women) have told me that they feel for the husband. This one, with its raw emotion and refrain ‘Telling me something isn’t right’ and ‘No more hanging around’ feels very accurate to his complex situation. If he was a dancing man I could see him in the rain like Usher in a white vest pouring his heart out. Sad times.

Q – Take Me Where Your Heart Is

Ultimately I think the husband is a romantic and that the wife loves to be romanced and that this song, with its ‘I’m so into you’ and ‘Take me where your heart is’ are the perfect embodiment of how they feel about each other. Of course there’s love there, but love, as with most things worth having, is complicated.

Summer Walker – Insane

Were the husband the type of man who liked to sing he would probably modify the lyrics to address Temi, because driving someone insane is exactly what she loves to do and no one does it better than her. At one point I think he has probably reached the end of his tether and is begging to know, like, really ‘Why you wanna play so bad?’. The million-dollar question.

Brandy & Monica – The Boy Is Mine

Swap the word ‘boy’ for ‘girl’ and swap Monica for the husband and you have The Three of Us as a music video.

Burna Boy – Gbona

With him being the king of a good time, and the Nigerian one at that, it wouldn’t have made sense to make a playlist for a book about Nigerians without including this one. The lyrics describe the ‘Gbedu’, which, in its simplest form, is the vibe for a good time, and that is exactly the vibe that Temi is the global ambassador for. Expect it to absolutely have been on the playlist for the holiday they never went on.

SiR – You Can’t Save Me

As if the wife’s allegiances (or lack of) weren’t unclear enough, I imagine that she hopes that if she were whatever enough, she would have been just like Temi, and these lyrics ‘In another time, in another place’ and ‘now I think you’re tryna help, oh / But you can’t save me from myself’, and the sad and reflective way in which they’re sung are indicative of someone feeling deep internal turmoil but who feels like it’s too late to turn back now.

SZA – Kill Bill

A significant number of men who’ve read the book and told me about their experiences with meddling best friends and their kinship with the husband have spoken about the way the friends they had to get rid of felt like they had their hooks into their wife/girlfriend/significant other. And this feels very much the same as what the husband’s interpretation of what Temi would likely be. He probably thinks she wants him dead, and the wife too if she doesn’t come correct. And who knows, maybe she does?

Cyndi Lauper – Girl Just Want to Have Fun

Another addition to the holiday playlist, but also another one for the ‘Temi’s personal anthems’ playlist too. Especially with the way Cyndi addresses her parents when they’re on her case about her future plans. Cyndi and Temi are definitely harnessing the same energy here.

Wayne Wonder – No Letting Go

In a tug of war this would be the rallying cry of both Temi and the husband’s teams. ‘No Letting Go’ is giving toxic/possessive/slightly unhinged energy, and that is absolutely how those two appear to relate to the wife in the eyes of some readers. I can also imagine Temi putting it on in the wife’s house, singing along and pulling the wife up to dance whilst the husband sits looking at his watch wondering when she will leave.

Kano – SYM

The context of this song itself is not a joking matter, but the chorus, the chorus is everything, and the way it’s sung is exactly the way I imagine the husband singing it to Temi from across whichever room she has made her own, the near-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand…

Yebba – My Mind

This song should only ever be enjoyed sober because it deserves that, but given how messy the characters in The Three of Us are, I can imagine them, after all that they’ve drunk and how little they’ve eaten all day, singing along to this whilst fairly intoxicated, perhaps all together, probably screaming out the lyrics but unaware of how deeply each of them is feeling every single word.

Ore Agbaje-Williams a British-Nigerian writer and editor from North London who has written for gal—dem, Glamour UK and Wasafiri magazine. Her fiction writing has also been featured on Reflex Fiction. Her first novel, The Three of Us, will be published by Jonathan Cape (UK), Putnam (US) and Penguin Random House Canada in May 2023.

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