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BEAT THE DRUM
Gently touching score avoids big sentiment, offers more subtle charm
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
and RAMIN DJAWADI
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Z Productions; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A tv movie about the AIDS epidemic in South Africa (estimates are that 20% of the population is HIV-positive) set against the backdrop of a young boy making the trip from his small village to the huge city of Johannesburg, Beat the Drum has won rave reviews around the world. The music was by two of Hans Zimmer's protégés, Klaus Badelt and the less well-known Ramin Djawadi, and their efforts have now seen the light of day courtesy of this new soundtrack album from Varese Sarabande.
Their music starts very well, with the first four cues offering a moving portrayal of a young boy's innocence and hope. With mercifully subtle orchestration which does not over-egg the pudding, bolstered by a series of well-written solo parts (especially for flute), it is touching music, with only a hint of the location, provided by the gentle percussion accompaniment more than anything else. "Jo'burg" is a busy, mostly synthetic piece offering the contrast of the big city. A nice solo guitar piece dominates the playful "Wash for a Rand", a gentle accompaniment to African life. A slightly harsher reality emerges in "On the Streets", though the music remains melodic and rather soft. The careful downward spiral of emotions continutes in "We Do Not Talk About It", with the melody this time carried by a synthesiser and certainly beginning to suggest the hideous day-to-day lives experienced by so many people.
The gorgeous "Musa's Theme" is the score's highlight - a lilting piece full of beauty yet tinged with tragedy, it is relatively simple but very moving. There isn't much of the usual "Media Ventures sound" here, but the familiar strained string sound Zimmer employed in The Thin Red Line (and others since) is used to good effect from time to time, particularly in the brief-but-impressive "Stephan Passed Away". It's quite impressive how the two composers managed to avoid getting over-sentimental, offering a calm commentary rather than a melodramatic swell - the album's final third is filled with music which is affecting in a considered way, emotional inside rather than overtly manipulative. This is exemplified perfectly in "Thandi's Theme", another outstanding piece enough to melt the hardest heart. The disc ends on a very high point with the excellent finale "Brand New Day" - when the orchestra swells and the choir joins in, it's the first time in the score that it's happened - if only modern film composers could choose their moments so carefully more regularly. Music like this has so much more impact when it is used as sparingly as it is here.
This is impressive music to be sure, and it's great to hear Badelt and Djawadi writing music in this restrained manner. The album's middle section lets it down slightly - what is around it is genuinely very good - it seems such a pity that Badelt is stuck doing the kind of thing he usually does, if he is capable of this.