BWS 11.09.19: Téa Mutonji


Photo: Sandro Pehar

Born in Congo-Kinsasha, Téa Mutonji is an author, screenwriter, essayist and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Walrus, Room Magazine, Joyland, and The Puritan. Her debut collection, Shut Up You’re Pretty (Spring, 2019) is the first title published under Vivek Shraya’s imprint, VS. Books. She writes, and gets lost in Toronto.


I relied on a lot of auditive and visual thinking when writing Shut Up You’re Pretty. I picture Loli and especially Jolie, as these unhinged, totally fearless, crazy haired girls walking down the street to something punk rock but also soul. This image was so strong I feel it stayed with me throughout the creation process. And of course, I listened to so much music to keep me entertained while writing. Loli goes on quite the journey. If this collection could be anything else, it would be a movie. If this collection could be anything else, it would be a musical. It’s a good thing this collection is a collection, because it means that it’s free—of form, of decisions, free to move and sing if it wants too. I have a feeling that if given the chance, Loli would do it all over again. I hope this soundtrack guides you in feeling Loli’s feelings every step of the way. I hope you check it out after reading a particular story. I hope it excites you, cares for you. Most of these songs have some serious throwback vibes, and SZA’s Ctrl being a dominant voice for Loli. It’s light, it’s sometimes sad. It’s inviting you to dance.



Tits for Cigs: Cherry Bomb, The Runaways

“Hello Daddy, Hello mom, I’m your chch-cherry bomb!”

The feel of this song reminds me of Loli and Jolie’s spirit. Life, in every respect, is good and cruising. They’re vibrant, and rebellious. I like the chaos and background nose in Cherry Bomb. It’s a great kickoff to the collection, offers just enough drama and teenage logic.

Parchment Paper: Touch-a touch-a touch me, Susan Sarandon

“Thrill me chill me fulfill me, creature of the night”

Oh, Loli has just discovered masturbation! However odd and weird it was, let’s put that aside for a second. She’s now exploring with a toothbrush, a brush, anything that look phallic. I love the carefree, light, and energy in this song. It’s an accurate mood distinguisher for Loli’s beating heart.

The Event: She Works Hard for The Money, Donna Summer

“She works hard for her money, so you better treat her right!”

Loli and Jolie are out there living and striving. They’re enjoying this sense of freedom that comes with the nearing of summer vacation. The spring heat at its finest. The music of their lives is still pretty high, pretty dance heavy, focusing their energy entirely on their bodies and their willingness to exercise it.

Down The Lakeshore: Cold Little Heart, Michael Kiwanuka

“It tears me apart. Did you ever fight it? All the pain, so much power, running through my veins.”

The cool, whispery, can-hear-the-ocean-speaking vocals of this song by Michael Kiwanuka is perfect. You have a father figure who is stuck in the past, who puts bandages on open wounds before disinfecting them first. I especially like the Outro: “Maybe this time, I can go far, but thinking about where I’ve been, ain’t helping me start.” Verbatim, thoughts straight from a broken father’s mouth.

If Not Happiness: Normal Girl, SZA

“And don’t you happiness is not a place, it’s a road to take and who you choose to walk it with.” Wise words from SZA. The moment Jolitta realized for herself that happiness wasn’t a place, and not necessarily a state of mind, but instead, the journey we take. And Jolietta, at fourteen years old, decides to skip town and take the journey. This is where we leave her. This is all we know so far.

This Is Only Temporary: I Heard Em’ Say, Kanye West

“They say people in your life are seasons and anything that happen is for a reason.” This Kanye West song, when Kanye had real shit to say, tracks for Galloway. This song talks about temporarily, it takes about hearing the nose and choosing to live your life anyways. It talks about survival, it talks about community, it takes about bringing people in, and keeping them there.

Phyllis Green: Pretty Little Birds, SZA

“You are but a phoenix among feathers, you’re broken by the waves among the sea [etc]. Pretty birds, you hit the window a few times.”

I imagine Loli singing this love note to Phyllis Green. I imagine, in her inability to connect with Phyllis, in her uncomfortableness and severe insecurities, she sees a lot of herself in Phyllis and hopes for the both of them that, “when morning comes, if morning comes, I hope you’re still mine.” But I think, instead of mine, Loli mines, “I hope you’re still yours.”

Ten Year Reunion: Place Des Grandes Hommes, Patrick Bruel

“On s’etait dit rendez-vous dans 10 ans, même jour, même heure, mêmes pommes.” There’s a line from this song directly in this story. It’s about the promise of a future. It’s about the promise of love and commiting to that promise.

Theresa’s Getting Married: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

The friendship between Theresa is special in so many ways. Notably, they seem to communicate without saying much. A lot of their love is felt stubly. I love the chemistry from this song. It’s a feel good song. And the message that it speaks, that together, we can do anything, it really resonates with me.

The Boy From My Youth: After Laughter, Wendy Rene

“When you’re in love, you’re happy.” This story is kind of interesting. So much happens, and yet, so little action. Loli is learning about her immediate needs. She’s learning about her desires. This is where the music and overall feel of the book start to shift. The light and carelessness of Loli is starting to fade.

The Common Room: All the Things She Said, t.A.T.u.

“I’m in serious shit, I feel totally lost, if I’m asking for help, it’s only because, being with you has opened my eyes, could I ever believe such a perfect surprise?” This song is such a queer girl anthem. Loli doesn’t address her sexuality in words. Mostly because she’s been experimenting with both girls and boys at such a young age, it never seemed necessary to make a deal out of it. But she meets Olivia and her life is morphing into something new. Olivia is feeding her in ways that Jolie couldn’t.

Men, Tricks and Money: Lady Marmalade, LaBelle

Voulez-vous couches avec moi?” What about the stories of sex workers who love their lives, their freedom and their finance? Loli has no shame, no trouble, no fear.

The Waitress: Everybody Hurts, R.E.M.

“When the day is long and the night is yours alone, when you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on.”

At this stage in her life, Loli is recognizing her own depression, her struggle with mental wellness, though, still has no words for it. Instead, she watches as the world attempts to stand on its own feet.

Shut Up You’re Pretty: Anything SZA

This is the most difficult story to score. Really, I think this one story is musicless. There isn’t any song to accompany the reality of this story. There isn’t anything at all.

Women Talking: Survivor, Destiny’s Child

“Thought that I would self-destruct but I’m still here.”

This story ends before it begins. What you have is two women coming together to offer each other unsolicited support. And they leave this interaction better for it.

Old Fashioned: Weekend, SZA

My man is my man is your man, Her, this her man too, My man is my man is your man
Her, that’s her man, Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I just keep him satisfied through the weekend, You’re like 9 to 5, I’m the weekend” I mean, verbatim, the song lyrics from SZA’s weekend is word for word this story unfolding. Add a dash of bourbon and you have a perfect merger. An big alternative to this would have been Bottle or Me by Dee Dee Sharp. That’s another fabulous song for Loli.

Sober Party: Sober & Sober II, Lorde

“Sometimes I feel like, my only friend is the city I live in, the city of angels.”

Okay, Loli is hitting rock bottom but also picking herself right back up. I love the coolness of this song. It’s smooths but picks up for the climatic chorus that really reminds me of Loli’s emotional state in this story. She’s looking for herself. She’s looking for herself in other women.

Tilapia Fish: Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

Anyplace is better, starting from zero got nothing to lose, maybe we’ll make something, but me myself I got nothing to proveI had a really difficult time picking a song for Tilapia Fish. I went with Tracy Chapman Fast Car. Loli’s coming home again. She’s coming home to be with her mother and to be with herself. I think this song can be applied over and over again, throughout the entire collection. Loli wants a fast car. But so does Jolie. So does Olivia.


Téa Mutonji visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Catherine Hernandez, Anubha Mehta, Charlene Challenger, and guest speaker Rosamund Small who gives us “Notes on Beautiful Collaboration in Playwriting” or “I Wrote This, Please Make It Alive and Ephemeral (But Also Do It Perfectly and Exactly How I Imagined It Every Single Time). Playwrights are simultaneously the most and least important element of the theatre. They may be the loudest voice in the rehearsal hall, or dead for five hundred years before auditions even begin. 

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