August 4, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jamika Ajalon's novel Skye Papers is a captivating debut, one that melds the personal, political, and artistic into an unforgettable whole.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Skye Papers may be Ajalon’s first novel, but she is an experienced artist: a sonic slam poet, musician, multimedia performer and filmmaker with a deep back catalog, evident on every page. From the rhythmic, riffing, incantatory prose to the novel’s cinematic crosscutting and recursive structure, to the minutiae of Skye and her friends’ daily struggles as artists, we get lost in a world that Ajalon renders with precision and lyricism that elude her main character."
Cosmic Music by alice & john coltrane
For Skye’s, liet motif, I hear sound–bytes from the album “Cosmic Music," a collaboration between Alice & John Coltrane that befits its title. Its chaotic nonlinear debut with “Manifestations," its ancient yet futuristic forms throughout, culminating in the sonically transportational “Sun” (the long version), makes this album an optimal soundtrack accompanying Skye’s mental-scape throughout the book. From her “whenever I speak it comes out in scat” remunerations through to her reoccurring oft psychedelic visions, Skye’s transforming interiority is echoed in Cosmic Music’s fluid soundscape, a 40 minute, timeless, masterpiece.
Talking ‘Bout a Revolution by tracy chapman
Skye has a mixtape that she plays from her walkman during her hustles to and from work, which include Chapmans “Talking About a Revolution”. During the time in which this book is set, Chapmans song was (and still is), very much the peoples narrative, both in real time and as premonition. We meet Skye in a world in which much of the social and political climate is simmering to boiling point; Act up is gaining momentum in the uphill battle to get adequate health care for the LTGB community during the height of the aids crisis. Antiapartheid / divestiture from South Africa protests were taking place on university campuses across the nation, and eventually would help lead to Nelson Mandela, finally, being freed. Not long after that, the world saw video taped footage showing police officers beat Rodney King into a pulp, on every news broadcast. Then, the cops got away with it, and the world watched LA burn on television. Skye is living within and inside this ‘boiling point’ frequency and Chapmans music is a marker of that time. Also Skye would have found a possible mirror in Chapman that all but existed within main stream popular culture; that of a deep brown skin, dread–loc activist, subverting the heteronormative ideal of ‘female singer,' sporting jeans, t-shirt, boots and acoustic guitar.
Great Gig In The Sky by pink floyd meets Come As You Are by nirvana
When Skye meets Pieces for the first time, she walks in on her painting to the sound of Curt Cobain singing “And I swear that I don’t have a gun…" But I think the sound that characterizes the moment she first sees Pieces, has to be Clare Torry’s voice on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”. As she has her first vision of Sincara dancing with Pieces, I can hear it my head; a wildly unlikely cut up, splicing bits of Nirvana's hurling voice with slices of the escalating vocals elevating the Pink Floyd song into the ephemeral.
Tenement Yard by murvin junior
This tune (!!) is playing outside the window, when Skye wakes up in Piece’s NY apartment with what she believes is her first alcohol induced black out. In some ways, Skye feels that she is waking up to a different world than the one she was in the day before. Something feels out of place, even though everything seems to be going as according to plan. She looks for clues while, Murvin Junior croons in a rough, reggae, foreboding blues, a timeless tale about the unrelenting surveillance in our neighbourhoods. As we are all being watched , not only by the State, but by each other, we become, often unwittingly, the eyes of “big brother”.
Gypsy Woman (she’s homeless) by Crystal Waters
Thanks to mini-napoleon’s, (aka Guilliani) ‘cleaning up the streets’ campaign in the gay '90s, the capitalistic teeth of gentrification continued its cycle of doom to the disenfranchised. New Yorks homeless, and other undesirables were being pushed out of the lower east side and further into the margins. Meanwhile a sound, once only heard in the dirtiest dives of Chicago, was seeping into the mainstream, House Music. Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman” a part of that emergence, was a hit both on the radio and in the clubs, gave voice to the voiceless. Waters sang with soulful tang over church ramp keys and that bend–your–back, beat, ”She’s just like you and me, but she’s homeless.” This song has got to be apart of Skye’s New York soundtrack, as she is adjusting to life in the big city. It would have definitely been on the Margherita–Ville playlist, where Skye works bussing tables in the heart of queer soho.
Walking In The Rain by Grace Jones
The Brady Bunch family scene, at Piccadilly Circus, London, begs for this iconic song, as the lyrics could have come out Skye’s own mouth; “walking down the street kicking cans… feeling like a woman, looking like a man, checking out the bill boards, checking out the race, doing what i’m doing feeling out of place.” Skye’s anger is increasingly unapologetic, and her actions reflect the need to disrupt the illusion. Grace Jones’ commanding voice, against that unrelenting bounce of a bass-line, would catch the mood of this moment with sleight of hand precision.
I Am a King (Junk Yard Birthday Party) by nick cave
This dark, liberating, scream of a song would be well placed during one of Skye’s misadventures with Scottie. One scene I have in mind is the post catastrophic Venue Gig, which helped contribute to Skye, for better or for worse, reclaiming some power, her actions a huge middle finger towards those she felt dismissed her. I imagine Skye and Scottie dancing a rough and tumble drunken punky tango through the night air as they make their way back to the Trashed Palace.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by gil scott heron meets Inglan Is a Bitch by lynton qwasi johnson
Skye Papers is a story that moves through and connects the transatlantic alternative scenes during a particular moment in time and space, a sub-terrain that exists and morphs throughout the times according to the needs of the people living them. The voices of the people who grow out of these underground networks echo each other across waters and other borders. I think a mash up between Gil Scott Heron’s, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and LKJ’s “Inglan Is A Bitch”, in the style of a sound system battle, would work well, as Skye moves through Brixton, remembering Chicago.
Deeper (uncensored version) by bo$$
Bo$$ is one of the most underrated gangster rappers to come out in the '90s, breaking stereotypical female rapper genre in her Timblerlands bomber jacket and baggy jeans. I would have found this on Skye’s near future play list. Bo$$’s lyrics and flow gave you swag that bucked the hetero-conventional before ‘gender fluid’ became a phrase written into every hip and “woke” tv series going.
But let’s talk about the lyrics. In Deeper she hits you with, “I don't really want to feel, like I'm in a daze so I smoke big kill. Just to deal with the ills like this fucked up trip (damn) My skills ain't payin bills and it's fuckin with me and my grip." BO$$’s smooth gutteral voice against dystopic underworld groove would definitely be a backing track for Skye who is learning the price of the ticket, when living outside the norms, and taking the path many dare not travel. She is changing from the somewhat naive suburban rebel, into a full blown ‘counter culture’ cultivator. She has gone from barely smoking and drinking, to becoming pro at it as she simultaneously seeks to unravel the truths underneath her unreliable ‘reality,' while becoming a master at escaping from it.
Oh! Bondage Up Yours by x-ray specs
This song is definitely for Amsterdam. It would sound track the mini-adventures, and other suchness, that Skye, Pieces, and Eddie get up to. These three young women, each in their own way, defy what it traditionally means to be a “girl”. Their very posture echos the sentiments of Poly Styrene’s fuck you to the patriarchy. I can see a montage of them getting up to shenanigans around the city up until Pieces and Skye settle in front of the Anne Frank house; just as this scene is about to start we here Styrene shouting, “Bondage up Yours!” I am sure Anne would agree.
Space Cowboi Blue by jamika & the argonauts
This the only song on the playlist that wouldn’t have been already out, a part of, or near the time period in which Skye Papers is set. Nonetheless it reflects the timeless nomadic intersectionality the characters in this book represent. The genre of the song itself is a mix of blues, rock, and electronic. Space cowboi blue, has a futuristic sound that would blend perfectly in with the mood of Cosmic Music. I can hear it now; we are at the end of the Coltrane vinyl, the last notes crackle off the wax, then in comes the electric blue space music and lyrics; “she carries no bags, just note books and rag tags rewiring the matrix… home where ever she lays her hat is where she belong… she’s a space cowboi bluuuuuuuuue.”
Jamika Ajalon is a prolific author and interdisciplinary artist who works with different mediums independently, but also in multiple fusions--incorporating written and spoken text, sound/music, and visuals. Her poems, stories, and essays have been published in various publications internationally. She currently writes a regular column for Itchy Silk magazine, "queer plume: the fugitive diaries." She has performed her audiovisual anti-lectures / sonic slam and exhibited across the globe, and has a BA in Film/Video and an MA in Communications in Culture and Society, from Goldsmiths University.