- 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.
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