Reflections on Music

What’s on my playlist?

Music is so evocative and my playlist is filled with songs that have followed me for so long now, they’ve become part of me. For this post, I thought of sharing some classics from a generally melancholic genre, accompanied by the wave of nostalgia that all cherished songs offer us. (Note – please don’t miss no.8 by an up and coming talent). 

1. David Gray ‘Last Boat to America’

I fell in love with this song in the early noughties. Back then I thought he was speaking of a ‘what shall I do with my life’ loss. But now, with a bit more wisdom, I understand the texture of his unspoken words a bit better. I think it’s a song about feeling weighed down by grief and looking for meaning. His melancholic vocals and lyrical genius accompanied me last on a bus trip from Zagreb to Ljubljana and it was just the journey of perfection. ‘Sing me the truth, sweet bird of youth, I’ve got some trouble trying to understand, Beneath these veils of mystery, Are these the movements of an unseen hand’. Lyrical genius.

2. Chris Martin and Michael Stipe ‘In the Sun’

Listening to it makes me remember the Pashtoon men and women I would spend half of my days with back in New Delhi, circa 2010, rapidly imbibing a crash course on the history of Afghanistan from 1979 onwards. That period in life when reality punched me in the face with the cruelty that was displacement and the first time I truly saw that for many, the world could be ugly and unforgiving. ‘I picture you in the sun wondering what went wrong, and falling down on your knees, asking for sympathy, and being caught in between all you wish for and all you seen, and trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in. May God’s love be with you, always’. The original song was composed and sung by Joseph Arthur, and this was remade by Chris Martin and Michael Stipe.

3. Tracy Chapman ‘Fast Car’

Who has not been touched by her deep husky voice, showing us the way through marginalised inner cities of America? This was the song about working-class frustrations, dysfunctional families, longing to escape and finding safety in love. Until today, every time I listen to it, bubbles of my 16-year-old self come up the surface, and the temptation to romanticise rebellion begins. ‘So remember we were driving, driving in your car, Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk, City lights lay out before us, And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder, I had a feeling that I belonged, I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone’. An ode to the longing for belonging, and for recognition. The diary of a Passive-Aggressive Kid.

4. Adele ‘Lovesong’

For me, Adele’s remake of The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’ is all about Turkey circa 2011-2012. Filistine Cadessi, an orange heat, cafe dwellers spilling out onto the pavement. A daily drumbeat of professional, personal and social discoveries, birthday brunches, farewell dinners, reunion lunches, summer picnics, a weekend trip to Izmir, a long Bayram week to Istanbul. And there was Adele, tinting the whole fabric of these sun-kissed memories with her sensuality, her desire to love and be loved.  ‘Whenever I’m alone with you, You make me feel like I am home again, Whenever I’m alone with you, You make me feel like I am whole again’. The most dangerous philosophy about love was being shamelessly peddled – that love should somehow complete your unfinished self – but still, a great fantasy to belt out when the weather is good and you are, quite frankly, deeply in love with the love of your life.

5. Philip Glass ‘Violin Concerto’

I don’t know where I first heard this song but it was constantly in my earphones since my early 20’s. It’s a beautiful violin piece, full of urgency and desperation. It’s a song for autumn, wool coats and leather boots, going down the steps into the Bond Street underground and emerging out onto Chancery Lane, walking in and out different alleyways in London’s West End, looking at the grey streets from the upper deck of the 27 bus,  heading to Russell Square or waiting for the Jubilee Line at the Green Park underground. And the layers and layers of climactic string from 1:37 onwards makes you wonder wonder wonder as you dread going to yet another lecture about Property Law – when will I find a cause that could really mean something, 

7. Reem Banna ‘Night has Fallen’

I was introduced to this Palestinian beauty on 20 November 2013. I remember the date so well because it was the last night of my life in Ankara. My two beloved friends, one of whom passed away this April, were with me in the sitting room, and they were discussing Reem Banna’s Night has Fallen. My late friend, a non-Arabic speaker, reminisced about feeling so connected to this song without knowing its meaning when we were living in Geneva, longing for home. My other friend, a native Arabic speaker, then confirmed that it was indeed, a song about longing for home and very much an ode to the Palestinian plight. When Reem Banna passed away on March 2018, the three of us discussed it and we remembered about that night of listening to her in Ankara. My late friend wrote ‘Some leave this world with a beautiful treasure left behind. She was one of those’, and of course, one year later, she herself left this world, leaving a beautiful treasure of memories for us. When I hear this song now, all these sentiments poignantly synthesise together into a complex combination of yearning, of pure happiness, of unconsolable sorrow, and of endless gratitude to have been part of such an exquisite bond of love and sisterhood. May God’s love be with you, always.

8. Mahmoud ‘Soldi’ 

This is September 2019 new. Initially, I was intrigued by the story of this Italian-Egyptian Milanese native and first runner up to the Eurovision song contest because his cultural identity represented the global melting pot of the present times. Then I played the song which seemed so unique in its tempo (pop?) and depth (edgy European rap?). Next, I translated the lyrics to English which teared me up with its raw and furious depiction of a life-defining childhood trauma – a ‘personal outburst’ as he explains here. Finally, I watched the very compelling music video which cinematically re-enacted all the ingredients of his story – abandonment, anger, hunger. Now Como Va, Como Va is glued to my brain. Read more about this young and talented musician and what his success means to the political discourse of the times here. I really hope he will continue to flourish artistically and also find some healing through his music.

Final Words

Music is no doubt a universal language. It informs so much of our spirit, and has the power to teleport us to memories of the past, or a longing for the future. Few things in life come close to the absolute contentment of strolling through a new city, ears plugged with songs to trigger our own unique repository of recollections or fantasies. Feel free to share the music that’s touched your life, and I will no doubt be enriched by your perspective.