Reversing to retro rhythms
The roaring 20s’ jazz, 50s’ rock, hip-hop of the 70s — any era you pick is only one song away from you.
The roaring 20s’ jazz, 50s’ rock, hip-hop of the 70s — any era you pick is only one song away from you. As they say, music can transport you back in time. And if you are a character in Nidhi Chanani’s new release Jukebox, this is far more literal. The adventure graphic novel takes you on a historical journey to the times of Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and more, as protagonist Shaheen, along with her cousin Tannaz, set out to find the former’s missing father, and eventually discover a time-travelling jukebox. Fantastical, explorative and action-packed with a sliver of humour, there is much to admire in this book.
With an exciting and almost Freaky Friday-esque tone and plotline, Nidhi carefully sews together various events of significance in which Shaheen and Tannaz, or Shahi and Naz, conduct their search. “Each visit to history that I selected, from the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s to the Bud Billiken parade in Chicago to the Vietnam war protest in San Francisco, was selected for its tie to the music of the time and impact on American history. I wanted to show how music and history work in tandem. They influence each other. I also wanted to ensure that each time Shahi and Naz travel back in time they were visiting a diverse America,” she explains and delivers on the promise. The story features several characters of colour — from the mixed-race Shahi and Bangladeshi-American Muslim character of Naz to the African-American record vendor and several more ‘in the past’. Representation is once more seen when Naz reveals her bisexuality, however, this is disappointingly unexplored in the story.
The character illustrations are adorable, and it is difficult not to root for the protagonists. The outgoing and feisty Naz is a great balance to the second-guessing and fretful Shahi. One bringing in the chaos and the other, playing the rationalist — these roles, interestingly, interchange at times. Fans of graphic novels are in for a treat when it comes to the authored notes at the back of the book, where Nidhi unpacks the inspiration for the story and characters. But the most interesting addition is undoubtedly the selection of previous works, original character sketches, refined character turnarounds and process of colouring that she includes. In my opinion — that is perhaps coloured by my passion for art (pun intended) — this draws you in and keeps you coming back to comb through details in the drawings that you may not have noticed before.
The segment also includes a moving letter of her journey with music and sharing that passion with her husband (the inspiration for Shaheen’s father Gio). This is what eventually led to the book-writing process in 2014. The write-up is deeply personal and unveils very emotional moments of the couple, and how music has been a part of each experience. So, when I asked about specifically impactful musicians in the book, it came as no surprise that there was no one answer. “At one point in the process of writing Jukebox, I thought it would be a Bill Withers tribute book. I see his music as a soundtrack to American life. But as I experienced through writing a book about music, it’s quite the impossible task to select just one musician.
There are too many influential musicians and songs to whittle it down to one. I love and listen to all the music in the book and through the process of writing it, realised my favourite era of music is the 70s. I thought it would be the 90s but I love retro soul and blues,” she observes, and the same can be inferred from the time periods chosen for the book. But in which time period do Shaheen and Naz find Gio? Or do they at all? You would need to time travel with them to find out.
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Price: Rs 399