From Text to Song with Vivek Shraya

From Text to Song with Vivek Shraya

Posted on September 11 by Farzana Doctor in Interview
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A few months ago, I approached Vivek Shraya--writer, filmmaker and musician--to help me with a book trailer for All Inclusive. He agreed to write the music for the trailer, and he also filmed and edited it. This isn’t the first time we’ve collaborated on a project; we’ve toured our books through the north-eastern US, provided editorial support to one another, and he filmed, edited and provided music for my first novel’s trailer. I admire (well, envy) Vivek’s multi-art universe, the way he seamlessly moves amongst words, images and music. I was curious about how he’d develop my novel’s song. Here’s the trailer our conversation about it.


FARZANA: Can you tell me about the process of going from All Inclusive’s text to “A Song for Ameera”?

VIVEK: As a songwriter, I found myself thinking about the mood of this book. This was the biggest challenge of putting together the trailer, because a good book, like yours, has many moods. It would seem that I had set myself up for an impossible task. Thankfully, you had given me some direction—a song reference you liked, and mentioned acoustic guitar. From there onward, I relied upon intuition. I found myself thinking about the book’s original prologue a lot, the haunting aspect of it.

After listening to the first version of my song, you were able to clarify that you were looking for something that felt like anticipation, perhaps more upbeat. The second version of the song is a faster version of the first, with a lot less delay and reverb (read: “less haunty,” as we said in emails). I also ended up recording a THIRD version because I wanted to try something altogether different, something more tropical and dreamy.

In the end, we settled on the second version, because that’s is what worked best with the visuals; it is always importing the song into Final Cut and seeing how it relates to the footage that makes the decision.


FARZANA: I love the melody and pace of the second version. It’s been a comforting earworm over these past weeks. About that prologue--I edited it out during my last set of revisions. I was very attached to it, but others told me it would slow down readers’ entry into the book, so I “killed my darlings”. I’m so glad they could live on in your song! I’m curious how a songwriter takes a few lines, and works them into a song?

VIVEK: That prologue was initially one of my favourite parts of the book, so I was sad to see it gone! Let’s honour it here:

For almost thirty years, a voice called me westward. It was a like a whisper, faint at first, but constant. Go back to Canada, it hissed.

I resisted the summons; I believed I shouldn’t be distracted by a world that was meant to be a temporary sideshow to my real life. No, I felt it was my filial duty to remain in India.

I did my best to cast myself in the role of the good eldest son. Well, as best as possible, given the circumstance. I felt I was responsible for my family’s misery. And in a way I was. If only I hadn’t stayed away so long. If only I’d gone home sooner, things might have turned out differently. Or so I believed.

But now I know that no one can change the past. The future? Well, that’s debatable.

The sibilation became a buzz, like an old radio stuck between stations. The static wouldn’t stop.

Go back.

Go back.

Go back.

What particularly stood out to me as reader, and perhaps as a songwriter, was the repetition of “Go back.” There is so much yearning and regret in those words.

When I write songs, it is generally from my perspective or a perspective I used to have. When writing “A Song for Ameera,” I tried to imagine being Ameera’s dad, Azeez, and writing from his perspective. What would he need to hear? Or what would he sing to himself to give him courage to connect with his daughter? I also tried to pull from your own phrasing to tell the story like: “...I know that no one can change the past. The future?”


FARZANA: You mentioned that we had a few conversations, over text and e-mail, about the song, specifically it’s mood and pace, and how it would work with my storyboard for the trailer. What was it like to work with these constraints, input, and my (sometimes vague) critiques? I imagine solo songwriting is a very different process?

VIVEK: I generally value the feedback process when making my own art, and especially valued your input during this process as ultimately this is your book. First and foremost, I really wanted you to like the song and feel proud of the trailer. But I also wanted to create something I could feel proud of too. This can be a difficult balance.

Collaborative art is always the ideal for me, versus commissioned art, because I think the outcome is more rewarding for both parties. When I listen to “A Song for Ameera,” it sounds like a little bit of you and a little bit of me. How lovely.


FARZANA: How lovely indeed! “A Song for Ameera” is a wonderful gift. I love how it honours the novel and its characters. I think Ameera and Azeez would agree.

Farzana Doctor

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
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Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is the author of Stealing Nasreen, All Inclusive, and Six Metres of Pavement, which won a Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award. She lives in Toronto.