November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Jean-Claude PETIT
 CAM 498263 [46:06]

Lumumba is a 1999 French film, according to the booklet's brief synopsis, "the history of Patrice Lumumba, leading figure in the Congo's process of independence from Belgian colonialism. His rise, from simple post office clerk to prime minister of his country; the few months as government leader and then his removal. Betrayed by his companions, he is tortured, executed and his body is eliminated in the savannah on night of January 1961. It is the story of a man who became a legend." The film seems to have been very well received at Cannes this year, but so far seems to have avoided being eliminated from any British multiplex or arthouse. The music is by Jean-Claude Petit, probably best known here for Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), The Horseman on the Roof (1995), and Ken Russell's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1992) TV mini-series.

There are 14 tracks on the album, of which 12 are score, the disc being divided by two lightweight and attractive afro-pop songs, 'Independence Cha Cha' by Tshamala Kabaselle and 'Table Ronde' by Kabasele Yampanya, both performed by Lumumbashi Stars. These 6½ minutes of music rather break the continuity of the score and would have been more effectively placed at the end of the album. This is a minor complaint about what is otherwise an excellent disc. Petit has composed a classically elegant and often understated score which, on occasion, bursts vibrantly into uninhibited life. It is a big score, with a big, warm-hearted, thrilling main theme, which can sound either haunting or elating, and appears in various guises from instrumental arrangements to the solo vocal of Julia Sarr to the full choir of the Bulgarian Symphony. It is a score very reminiscent of some of the work of John Williams, and none the worse for that; certain atmospheric passages, and the wordless choir introducing the 'Final', evoke Williams marvellous Empire of the Sun (1987), while the big tune - and this is a BIG tune - is uncannily close to Williams terribly under-rated African choral from Amistad (1997). This is not to suggest any plagiarism, probably Petit has never heard Williams score, for if he had I suspect he would have taken pains to write something rather more dissimilar, but it may be that both composers drew on the same traditional African traditional material for inspiration: both films, though set in different centuries, are about the struggle of black Africans for freedom from white slavery or oppression. Whatever the providence, with the choir in full flight and the excellent surround sound filling the room, it would take a cold heart not to be both deeply moved and utterly thrilled by this music.

Apart from the splendid theme Petit has crafted a strong and varied under-score which is sometimes spare, sometimes dramatic, using percussion imaginatively but keeping to the point and never assaulting the listener in a strained attempt at effect. This is the work of a composer who knows how to use his orchestrations wisely, and in the often low key approach has something in common with Tan Dun's music for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which I also review this month. Lumumba is a 'grower' of a score, and for that reason, combined with the fact that few will probably ever see the film in this country, it is unlikely to gather the praise and attention it thoroughly deserves. Take a chance, ignore the big names for once and buy this instead. It's a fine score from a composer who should be much better known.

Gary S. Dalkin


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