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