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Exotic score crosses cultural boundaries, features some dazzling moments

Music composed by

* * * 1/2

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conducted by

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Catalog number
477 733-3

Album cover copyright (c) 2007 UCJ; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall

A novel which could almost be used as the definition of the word "acclaimed", Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a sprawling work which goes through the last 30 years or so of Afghanistan's history, through the eyes of a pair of friends from youth to adulthood.  Director Marc Forster found success previously with Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball, and will next turn his hand to making the next James Bond film.  He doesn't tend to stick around with film composers, instead choosing them for projects based on their individual merits, and so he came to Alberto Iglesias, who has scored dozens of films, mostly in Spain, and most recently has become the composer-of-choice of Pedro Almodovar.  His only previous American film was The Constant Gardener, which earned him an Oscar nomination - a feat which has been accomplished again with The Kite Runner.

Picking a western composer to work on a film which ingrains itself in an entirely different culture can often lead to misfiring scores - a frequent pitfall is writing unmistakably western music filtered through ethnic instrumentation, ending up just sounding fake.  Iglesias avoids that here by deliberately staying away from trying to write "Afghan music", instead using the Hollywood musicians augmented by a variety of performers and instruments from not just Afghanistan, but all around the region, particularly Iran and Pakistan.  It creates an interesting mix - no doubt any Afghan readers of this website would find numerous flaws in the music, but it certainly avoids simply sounding like "Leonard Bernstein's eastern vacation".

Of course, the more authentic the music - the more different it is from the western traditions - the harder it can be on the palette of an ignoramus such as myself.  Hearing the exotic dance music which accompanies the opening titles - the ethnic winds and percussion - is arresting, almost jarring, because it's so different from music one is used to hearing.  It is not without its appeal, but in terms of catching a broad audience it might struggle.  However, as it develops the score generally moves away from that, with the ethnic influences becoming more textural than explicit (apart from the few pieces of source music).

A Morricone-like theme is presented in "Sin"; a beautiful melody, haunting and moving - and isn't it typical of an infidel like myself to highlight the first track that is resolutely Hollywood scoring!  The real standout though is "Kite Tournament", a colourful piece embracing a diverse array of influences, remaining upbeat and cheerful.  It's a bit of a surprise in the middle of the score, but creates quite an impression.  As the album moves on, Iglesias's music takes a more restrained, distant tone, with "Fly a Kite" being particularly attractive.  All in all this is not an album which will appeal to everyone - and despite some wonderful moments, I'm not sure it is consistently successful - but nonetheless quality is clearly there in abundance, and Iglesias is a composer to watch.


  1. Opening Titles (3:20)
  2. The Call, Kabul 1978 (2:32)
  3. He Hates Me (1:07)
  4. Kite Shop (3:06)
  5. Sin (1:34)
  6. Tanha Shudam Tanha Ahmad Zahir (3:35)
  7. Kite Tournament (5:40)
  8. Hassan Theme (2:57)
  9. Az Man Begurezed Ahmad Zahir (5:04)
  10. Plant the Watch (1:29)
  11. Russians Invade (2:22)
  12. The Truth (1:59)
  13. Ormaid e Man Ehsan Aman (1:47)
  14. Fuel Tanker (3:09)
  15. End Phone Call Sussan Deyhim (2:06)
  16. The Stadium (2:33)
  17. Escape (3:09)
  18. Dukhtare Darya Ehsan Aman (3:42)
  19. Fly a Kite (4:27)
  20. Reading the Letter (2:49)
  21. Supplication Sami Yusuf (4:05)