Recommended: Farai Chideya’s Black rock novel “Kiss The Sky”

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A black rocker plugs in and tunes up songs in the key of her life

I’m really excited for my friend and former NPR host Farai Chideya, whose funny and poignant debut novel drops on Tuesday.  What’s not to love here?  A novel published by a major publisher that’s set in the world of a black female rocker.  Here’s how she describes the book:

Kiss The Sky tracks the life of Sophie “Sky” Lee, a thirtysomething black rock musician making a comeback in New York City in 2000. There are a few hitches to her plans: Sky’s guitarist is her mercurial, drug-abusing ex-husband; her manager is also her boyfriend; and Sky herself is frightened of the cost she’ll pay to reach the pinnacle of fame.

Add to that her struggles with religion, her family, and her meddling girlfriends and you have a book which blends substantial themes of love, faith, and longing with contemporary pop culture. Kiss the Sky also has a catalogue of music references on par with books like [Nick Hornby's] High Fidelity.

As it should be, the music that Sky is about is presented as absolutely normal, not some deviation that makes her misunderstood and under-appreciated.  It's who she is.  At the same time, the challenges she faces are not because she's black and in a rock band.  Rather, the novel explores the price that Sky is asked to pay to achieve her dreams and large-scale success: Feeling beholden to a corporation's golden handcuffs; a potential marriage of convenience; the loss of privacy.  In addition to crisp writing, Farai makes it easy to accompany Sky through her journey: Artists and song titles mark each chapter and these provide a kind of underscore to the events that unfold.  It's a great device that makes you aware of music throughout the novel, even when the characters aren't performing.

Over the next few days, I’ll post a two-part interview I did with Farai, which I’m excited to share with you all.  In the meantime, ask me and I’ll tell you it’s just further evidence of the cultural shift that’s moving Black rock off the fringes and towards the mainstream. 

Change is happening.  And it's even better when it gives rise to something substantive.

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