Typically, I never listen to music while I write. I am one of those sociopaths who requires silence to create. This is a difficult task with a global pandemic currently on, freelance clients calling for assigned work, a nine-year-old extrovert at home and a fairly obsessive chef husband who talks about food more than anyone should.
However, when I’m in pre-writing mode—when I’ve got nerve and muscle building themselves onto whatever bones of a poem I’m gestating, but only in my head—music is crucial. I can be cruelly editorial about what I produce. Music takes me out of that space into a gentler, more intuitive self. That’s a better place for new work to come to the fore.
And when faced on one side with the worry and stress that everyone is experiencing, given that we are all fighting a microscopic enemy that can potentially kill millions, creating this space is essential.
Here’s what I’ve been listening to to get me to write:
- Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin | Buss Head
I’ve always loved Bunji (and Fay-Ann), and have always heavily ‘cut eye’ at Machel, but this collab was everything. I don’t celebrate Carnival. But I am very aware that the rhythms of where Carnival started flow through all of us descendants of the enslaved. I’ve always identified with the ethos of the stick fighter, so to have an anthem to dance to in the private kalinda of one’s bedroom is liberating.
- Bonnie Tyler | Holding Out for a Hero
I should be ashamed to say that I was first introduced to this song while watching the movie Shrek. Since then, this quintessentially 80s ballad has been a staple if I feel like I just need to holler without sounding like institutionalisation should be the next step.
- Golda Lee Bruce | Awake
Having grown up hella Pentecostal, my adult Christianity often finds me avoiding most popular gospel music. Trust me, I have heard it ALL before. But this song is true in a way that few others have been. The usual janky jargon is stripped away and there is a comforting purity to how she describes an authentic relationship with Jesus.
- Jidenna | Chief Don’t Run
I listen to Jidenna more than is healthy for anyone, and most often, this song is on repeat. My love for hip hop is very fickle, but the blend of hip hop and Afro-beats and afro-diasporic cultural referencing in Jidenna’s rhymes and wardrobe does me a solid healing without the guilt of tacitly supporting misogyny/wealth-as-weapon/insert any rap trope here.
- Johnny Cash | Hurt
As an angsty teen, tabanca music was my drug of choice. These days, this song is often what I turn to, to indulge in that palpable sadness that sometimes envelopes me. Now I know it is just my brain fighting to cope with its own chemical imbalance. One of the few songs that can make me cry.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i | We Know The Way
No modern parent escapes the Disney trap. But my husband and I actually play the Moana soundtrack without prompting from our daughter. And this track, though short, is one of my favourites. I’ve known for a while that kind of work I want to do is about building a sense of cultural and historical identity, while honouring strides made by those who went before me. So I felt a significant spark the first time I heard the lead singer say, “We know who we are, who we are.”
Desiree Seebaran is a Trinidadian writer and editor. She is an alum of the Cropper Foundation Residential Workshop for Writers (2010) and the inaugural Moko Magazine Poetry Masterclass (2018). Her work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Small Axe Literary Competition (poetry) and the 2017 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contest. Her poem ‘Picong’ won the 2019 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize for poetry.