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Album Review: Winnie Mandela – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

3 min read

Winnie Mandela, a biopic of the South African politician and activist of the same name, hit cinemas in the US last week, subsequent to the release of the film’s soundtrack. It is perhaps important to disclose that the movie has not yet reached the shores of the country in which I reside, so unfortunately I have not had the benefit of basing my review on a screening. However, I hope to give an adequate account of the music as its own entity.

WinnieMandelaOne benefit of having a leading actress who is an Oscar-winner and a successful recording artist in your film is that you don’t have to look far if you want to add some star-power to the soundtrack. Thus, Jennifer Hudson was the natural choice as the voice for the passionate opening number, Bleed For Love, which immediately gives the sense that the biopic will be placing its focus on the more positive, heroic aspects of Winnie Mandela’s life. It’s that kind of epic tune that you could imagine getting some high rotation on karaoke machines someday, depending on how the film goes at the box office. I can almost imagine Winnie, in the movie, taking a quick break from her political activity and, after a pause for dramatic effect, staring deep into the camera to belt out the power anthem with the Soweto Gospel Choir in full force behind her.

The Soweto Gospel Choir’s role in Bleed For Love should not be understated; they are more than partly liable for any goose-bumps you might receive while listening to it. They are also featured in the film’s score, composed by Laurent Eyquem. That beautiful African vocal timbre is a prerequisite for the success of any soundtrack to a large-scale movie set in the continent, as are those thunderous African drums, which also get a run.

Eyquem’s score follows a logical sequence, tracking stages of Winnie’s life chronologically – the pieces are named according to the complication or emotion that they are trying to evoke. Eyquem is successful at producing such feelings, as well as conjuring images of the magnificent scenery associated with the area. While his compositions make up the majority of the soundtrack, the score is broken up by a few jazzier numbers from Sidney James, Ben Amato and the Manhattan Brothers, which help to give the movie a sense of era. Also featured are a pretty rendition of Halleluja (La Passionata) by St Teresa’s Intermediate School Choir, and the upbeat African tune Nguye Lo by Twalamato, which I am hesitant in describing as the film’s Hakuna Matata as the words might mean the complete opposite to ‘no worries’ for all I know.

The soundtrack to Winnie Mandela probably isn’t one that’s going to be playing in your car, due to the ratio of film score to stand-alone songs. However, the music is effective in producing certain moods, as well as situating the listener in a certain time and place. How well it is applied to moving images remains to be seen, for me at least, but on listening alone it seems to have the hallmarks of a reasonably successful soundtrack.