Of all the film composers to try out ethnic colouring in their writing, few have been as successful as Hans Zimmer when he's used African rhythms and choral writing in his work. Zimmer collaborated with Lebo M who wrote the lyrics and helped with the choral arrangements and together they shaped the very distinctive brand of African Hollywood choral writing that has proved popular since (witness James Newton Howard's Dinosaur). While their most famous collaboration was for the hit Disney animation The Lion King, The Power of One is perhaps a more satisfying work overall.
The album starts out with a lengthy cue for chorus and percussion which is truly scintilatting; by turns despairing and uplifting it is almost a perfect miniature suite or overture to the rest of the score. No less attractive is the anthemic Mother Africa, but this is followed by the quite wonderful Of Death and Dying which takes the Mother Africa melody and turns it sour and is the emotional highlight of the score. The Limpopo River Song is one of several short traditional songs that make up the latter half of the album, but the few Zimmer cues are considerably longer. Having said that, the arrangements and the authentic sound of Zimmer's writing mean they blend fairly seemlessly together.
Slightly less seemless is The Power of One, a decent enough, if fairly ordinary anthemic pop song spin off. It doesn't quite fit into the score and being programmed halfway through does rather spoil the flow. However, that does leave way for a powerful and lengthy reprise of Mother Africa to finish off the album. Anyone who enjoyed Zimmer's contributions to The Lion King will find more of the stirring choral music that helped his contributions to that film win him an Oscar. Anyone tempted off the traditional songs shouldn't be since they are the perfect, truly authentic accompaniment with the Penny Whistle Song sounding like the inspiration for some of Zimmer's arrangements of Elton John's songs for The Lion King. The performances by the Bulawayo Church Choir are of course excellent and the result is one of Zimmer's most stirring and dramatic scores.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
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