Beloved is set just after the American Civil War and it is a supernatural
tale which also deals with the grim psychological legacies of slavery. It
is centred around Sethe, a former slave played by Oprah Winfrey who is haunted
by violent memories of slavery and literally by the spirit of Beloved, her
dead daughter. The film also stars Danny Glover.
Rachel Portman is the first, and, so far, the only woman to win the Oscar
(in 1996 for Emma). For Beloved she has created a remarkable score concentrating
on the use of instruments of African, Haitian and Brazilian descent. She
also proves how well she writes for voices. Understandably, in view of the
screenplay, the score is sad and melancholic, the music slow-moving.
She shares compositional honours with the singer Oumou
Sangare for the opening and three or four other tracks all featuring Sangare.
The use of ethnic instruments; one like an Indian or Chinese harp another
like a cimbalom, adds colour and resonance. The textures and sounds in "Bluestone
Road", for instance are as striking as they are unusual. The music is often
appropriately coloured-church spiritual but there are also Irish Gaelic
resonances. The most impressive track, "Thats Ohio" is also the longest.
It begins with reflective "harp" figures before striking and affecting a
capella choral music. Another memorable cue is "Uhuru" sung by The African
An interesting and unusual album; but do not attempt to listen to it all
in one sitting, you might weary of its melancholy, and its lack of varied
mood and tempo.