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What We're Reading: Laura Mvula

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photographer Emma Hardy

Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, GEN F alumnus Laura Mvula shares her favorite biographies and music books.

The Jazz Cadence of American Culture
by Robert O’Meally

I was scouring in a charity bookshop. I rarely get time to do that, I rarely get time to do anything really, but when I can I really like to hit up charity shops. And I love to read about music. Some people would say there’s a jazz sensibility in my music, and I’ve been curious about jazz and its history, but I know so so little about its in-depth history and theory. I was looking for a place to start, and this book seemed like a good starting point. I’m only about two pages in. So far it’s just been looking at where the word ‘jazz’ came from. It’s intimidating ‘cause it’s huge, it’s like a study book really, but I’m intrigued by its origins and I think I’m going to be super knowledgeable by the end. I started it in a hotel lobby while on tour. Those are the only real moments I get to myself.

Miles: The Autobiography
by Miles Davis

I’ve read it three times already, the first was when I was about 17. The most striking thing, when you’re a teenager and you grow up sort of sheltered environment, is the language. Miles Davis uses a lot of profanity. It’s just part of his DNA, it’s how he expresses himself, and after a while it becomes not so offensive, almost appropriate. You get completely sucked into another world, you see the world how he sees it. That’s how I feel about the music too, you’re taken on this journey. It may sound a little cliché but that’s how you’re drawn in. And you see how he matures, the essence is he’s always pushing forward fearlessly, not concerned with other people’s opinions. There’s so much excitement, colour, danger and adventure. It’s the only book I can read over and over again. I grew up listening to his music. I was confused by it when I was young, but it meant a lot to my dad. He had a documentary on VHS and I’d watch that a lot, and as a teenager it was odd to watch something I didn’t quite understand, but I was so intrigued, and keen to please my dad. So reading the book felt like a natural thing. It was most significant when I was a teenager. Now there are more distractions, with social media, always needing to be in touch with everyone always. But back then I could be engrossed in a book, and there were more opportunities to be impacted by the stories, and revel in his adventures.

Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix
by Charles R. Cross

I was ashamed that I know very little about Jimi Hendrix and his life, and he’s this icon. So I bought this book as the first step to learning about who this guy was. He’s an artist that I respect and I started reading this book as sort of a nod to his legacy. I haven’t gotten very far, but I always find people’s beginnings so intriguing. The fact that he had this flair and intrigue so young. And just the little things, it’s unclear how he got his first guitar, one person says it’s his dad’s, I love things like that. I find it fascinating to find out about how the iconic musicians of our time, how they come to be who they are. You go right back to the beginning, you discover things about his family life, his parent's broken relationship, losing his mum early on– all of those things contribute to who we become as human beings. It’s always fascinating to hear somebody else’s story. I’ve read this one in hotel lobbies as well, and I remember being at my mum’s and bringing it out. I have some rare opportunities where I can go back to Birmingham, and I think I started reading it there.

Posted: September 06, 2013
What We're Reading: Laura Mvula