Review by Brad Green:
How impressive the rogues gallery that has inhabited power across the Dark Continent. On
the West Coast there was Zaire’s Mabuto, Central Africa boasted Uganda’s Idi
Amin and if we take a drive on the East Side we find a charming bunch of Mogadishan
warlords. What can you say about the most tragic places in Africa: Beautiful scenery but
you wouldn’t want to starve there?
It would be easy for this soundtrack to dive into heroic martyrdom. Yet there is not a
single note of sentimentality until the final few cues; and even then it’s more of a
gentle pathos. It is a heavy score certainly: deep with the sounds of Africa; foreboding
with the sounds of fear; and electric, harsh and aggressive with the sounds of military
machines and desperate conflict. No need for tawdry emotional triggers when there are
bullets in the air and the blood of brave men on the ground.
The distinct African and Western elements of this score don’t seem to want to
fight each other. There’s no politics here. We know that in Africa some people live
well, some go hungry and some live well because others go hungry. Of all the complex wars
that are fought, when people die for purely humanitarian causes it is the one time that
good and evil seems as clearly demarcated as in Tolkien mythology. Alas, real life
doesn’t always provide such pretty resolutions.
Appropriately enough, the score opens with a cue titled Hunger. It’s literal and
metaphorical. There is a yearning of every kind in the trilling African voice, chanting in
a tongue exotic to Western ears, but wrapping itself into the universal language of
melody. The human voice is important to this soundtrack. Would it really matter if a big
black expensive chopper went down and no lives – on either side – were at stake?
One of those voices is Australia’s Lisa Gerrard. She teamed with Zimmer on
Gladiator of course, and while her contribution is more modest here, her earthy, haunting
tone once again serves to echo the great scope of human poignancy – from the combat
of the colosseum to an African war zone. In contrast to the pure, plaintive phrasing of
Denez Prigent whose song she shares, it is a devastating listening experience.
Yes, combat is hell. Yet even in hell there is strange beauty. Electric guitars ring
out their power chords with the proud bearing of military machines in formation, while
electronic percussion gyrates: sharp and relentless as propeller blades.
It might seem a better idea to ignore such misery and mayhem, but a pretence of
ignorance is anything but bliss. Sometimes it’s cathartic to contemplate the worst of
Tribal rhythms, overdriven guitars, recherché African refrains and an artillery of
electronica cannot, of course, truly represent the horror of battle, or the beauty of
Africa, or the demons of politics and history. But they can reflect it all, and in so
doing this soundtrack makes for a worthwhile, and ultimately rewarding listening
Published February 28, 2002