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He Named Me Malala
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Sony Classical / 2015 / 53m

A documentary about Malala Yousafzai, He Named Me Malala tells her moving story.  Still only 18 today, she campaigned for the rights of girls to be entitled to education in her local area in northern Pakistan, where the Taliban had periodically banned girls from attending school.  In 2012 she was shot in the head on her school bus but miraculously survived; the incident drew the world’s attention to her cause, changed the law in Pakistan and saw her win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Director Davis Guggenheim turned to Thomas Newman to provide the score, the first documentary of the veteran composer’s long career.  Newman’s music is everything you might expect – classy, at times quirky, full of exotic colour and at times great beauty.  Virtually all of those things are heard in the two-minute opening cue “A Pashtun Story” – a lovely, simple piano melody which serves as the main theme (a little reminiscent of Wall-E of all things) runs through the cue accompanied by an array of soloists providing the colour, plenty of percussion creating a driving energy.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

As with most Newman albums, it is made up of a large number of relatively short cues that serve as perfectly self-contained vignettes that somehow come together to create music that flows beautifully and doesn’t feel bitty.  Other highlights include “I Am Malala”, a subtle female voice used beautifully, strings adding depth, the main theme outstanding on solo harp.  Another theme, again introduced on piano, is first heard in “July 12” – absolutely prototypical Thomas Newman, it delicately floats along with gorgeous, such careful accompaniment from chimes, strings and voice.

“Old Life New Life” has an innocent quality to it, a gently playful melody sunny and really lovely.  Dreamy, ethereal synths contrast with the vocalist in “A Fiery Speaker”, one of my favourite cues – it’s hypnotic, captivating.  “Peace Prize” is (perhaps unsurprisingly) one of the happiest cues, full of joy and positive energy.  The finest cue of all is “Speak What Is In Your Soul”, full of courage and peaceful determination, the familiar main theme on piano with vocal colour, strings and winds taking over, the percussive accompaniment ever present and growing to a frenzied conclusion.

For the darker aspects, Newman generally keeps a respectful distance.  “Ideology” features a subtle heartbeat-like effect against a dark underbelly of sounds but the composer wisely avoids it being at all oppressive.  “Birmingham” contrasts light and dark, beginning in the darkest of places but gradually transforming with notes of hope and love.  The following cue “Radio Mullah” on the other hand focuses more on the darkness, little glimmers only coming through towards the end.  “No More There” is so sad, so raw – still achieved in such a gentle way, just little prods and pokes over an ambient bed of strings and synths.

Discounting octogenarians, Thomas Newman is the greatest living film composer and He Named Me Malala is absolutely prime territory for him.  True, there is not much here that strays far from ground he has explored before, but hearing him just do his thing is always a delight and this is such a good album, full of so many little textures and depths that are fascinating to explore.  He has numerous imitators but nobody has ever managed to make this style of music work the way he does so often – his usual band of soloists provide such wonderful colour, the recording (as ever) perfectly balanced to show them off.  This is vintage Newman and undoubtedly one of the scores of the year.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Sunday 4 October, 2015 at 03:56

    “Discounting octogenarians, Thomas Newman is the greatest living film composer …”

    Really? I thought that the favorite composer for movie music reviewers was Desplat! Not that I’m complaining, though, I love them both (and Giacchino, Newton Howard, etc.).

  2. Luísa (Reply) on Wednesday 7 October, 2015 at 21:06

    Concordo com o Tiago, o Desplat tem sido bastante valorizado, muito merecidamente, é claro. Apesar das boas críticas sobre essa trilha, achei-a um pouco neutra no filme.

  3. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Saturday 10 October, 2015 at 05:03

    Hmm, Newman the best living composer? To each their own I suppose :3

    I’m very excited for you to get to John Powell’s “Pan,” which besides being the score to an absolutely atrocious film, is in my opinion the composer’s finest work to date (yep, even above HTTYD2). The melodies and sophistication of the action music are to die for 🙂 Just watch out for a few HORRID and dated pop-culture reference tracks towards the beginning (I’m sure Powell wouldn’t have wanted them to be included anyway…)


  4. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Saturday 10 October, 2015 at 19:47

    I didn’t even know that Thomas Newman was scoring this film before I read this review (I tend to pick up pretty much anything with his name on it these days- I’m very much into his style). In my opinion the album gets off to quite a slow start, middle-of-the-road fare similar to “The Judge”, but the second half of the album is really enjoyable and reminds me of the sort of depth that he put into “Angels in America”. Still eagerly anticipating the score for “Spectre”.

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Sunday 11 October, 2015 at 19:42

    I really, really (REALLY) enjoy Pan but there’s no way it’ll ever overtake the How to Train Your Dragon scores in my estimation, Pepper. Still, there’s no shame in that – high freaking bar!

    I’d still love to hear James’ take on Pan, though. 🙂

  6. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Monday 12 October, 2015 at 21:21

    Yeah, it would be hard for me to choose between HTTYD2 and Pan for sheer composition quality, although I think I still *enjoy* the original HTTYD the most as a whole package for its pacing and development. Still, Powell is without a doubt one of my favorite composers recently and every album he comes out with is always highly anticipated 🙂

  7. tiago (Reply) on Tuesday 13 October, 2015 at 04:44

    Pan is highly impressive indeed. It may not be as good as HTTYD 1 or 2, but it’s almost as epic as them. It has a lot of adventure and excellent and enormous action cues, and great themes.

    But, still, I would love to see what James thought of this, firstly ’cause I’m curious. And secondly because we could finally comment about it on the appropriate thread, not on the comments section of a Thomas Newman soundtrack.

  8. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 13 October, 2015 at 08:47

    LOL, yeah, you’re right Tiago – it doesn’t take much to sidetrack me into a Powell discussion! 😀

  9. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Tuesday 13 October, 2015 at 17:43

    Haha I dunno, these comments would be an awful lot quieter if people were limited to discussing the score in question 😉

  10. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 13 October, 2015 at 21:12

    To be honest, Pan hasn’t really grabbed me. I mean, it’s fine and everything (it’s a John Powell score for a Peter Pan movie, how could it not be!?) but it isn’t up there with his great ones, I don’t think.

  11. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Wednesday 14 October, 2015 at 03:02

    Weirdo :p