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Winnie Mandela (Laurent Eyquem)

November 2, 2013


Laurent Eyquem, 2013, RCA Records
22 tracks, 47:30

A beautiful little score that hits all the right notes, but does it pack a punch?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Johannesburg-born Darrell Roodt, “Winnie Mandela” is a drama about the life of Winnie Mandela. It was released in 2011 (to mixed reviews) and stars Jennifer Hudson (Winnie) and Terence Howard (Nelson Mandela). The film’s composer is Laurent Eyquem, who is a little more famous now (thanks to “Copperhead“) than he was back then.

What does it sound like?

A handful of song are scattered throughout the album. In fact, it opens with “Bleed for Love” performed by Jennifer Hudson (also the film’s star) with the Soweto Gospel Choir. It’s a fairly standard pop-ballad material with a strong (if somewhat shout-y) lead vocal, backed by strings and soft percussion. The song was produced by Laurent Eyquem and David Franco. St Teresa’s Intermediate School Choir beautifully perform “Halleluja (La Passionata)”, but even at 2:20 the song gets tiresome as the same verse is sung over and over again. And again. Ben Amato’s “Jozi Jive ’55” and Twalamato’s “Niguye Lo” bring a bit of joviality to an otherwise very serious album; whilst Sidney James and the Manhattan Brothers offer romantic ballroom classics “You Could” and “Lakutshon Llanga”, respectively.

Eyquem’s score opens with “Sunrise” (track 2) which combines African vocals with strings, soft brass and minimal percussion. It combines some (stereo)typical African sentiments with European ones in a way that sounds instantly familiar and reassuring. There are structured, recognisable chord progression here; and whilst there is some melodic content here, I wouldn’t say there’s a strong main theme present. There are strong chords, strong harmonies and emotions, but it falls short of presenting something truly memorable. Incidentally, I think this is the case for the majority of this album. However…

… “A New Season” immediately makes you sit up and take notice. It opens with a slow chord for strings, a little deceptively as you’re initially expecting an atmospheric cue or a lament… A playful piano takes the lead and instantly makes this a joyous piece. When full orchestra, including staccato strings take over the cue becomes the album’s true triumph.

“Sound of Hope” is a beautiful cue with a noble horn leading the way. That horn and, a little later, an oboe perform a lovely melody. Full orchestra takes over to provide an epic sweep, only to be cut short with a dreadful chord, presumably signalling that not all is well. It’s nicely reprised in “Dreams”, though still without a satisfying resolution. “Enchantment” sure lives up to its name as strings and piano find a way to your heart through a romantic melody. “Wedding Song” opens with a(nother) playful piano line, though ends more solemnly with cooing African vocals.

The album takes a turn for the dramatic with “On the Run” as a solo cello and ominously arpeggiating strings take centre stage. Eyquem cleverly weaves his “Sound of Hope” theme into this and the next cue (“Anxious Moments”). “Death Sentence” is understandably a solemn piece, but it sees much of “Sunrise” reprised (including the percussion), giving it a defiant character. “Passing of Time” and (surprisingly) “Freedom” are marked by slow piano play; whilst “Lovers in Prison” sees a welcome change in orchestration as a female vocal mournfully takes the lead. The expression in the strings is exquisite and makes for a heart wrenching listening experience.

The horn line that opens “Separation” initially briefly recalls Eyquem’s own “Copperhead – Main Theme”, but quickly deviates (and it is more likely a variation on “Sunrise”). After the dense strings of “Winter Clouds” and the slow piano play of “Separation/Isolation”, the album concludes with “Memories” which reprises the “Sound of Hope” theme, yet still doesn’t give it that satisfying resolution that we’ve been longing for.

Is it any good?

The warm harmonies and melodic nature of the score make it one that is instantly likeable. There is much to love about this album. It is beautifully orchestrated and meticulously performed. It is heartfelt; and offers at least one stunner of a cue (“A New Season”) alongside a plethora of lovely ones. However, I do believe that the album suffers the same symptoms as “Copperhead” before it. It is all very beautiful, very pretty, but unexpected (and sometimes odd) tonal shifts prevent it from becoming truly memorable as these shifts undermine the music’s momentum. Due to the very subtle nature of the composition and the lack of variation in the orchestration most tracks end up sounding a lot like each other. With “Winnie Mandela” being a relatively short album this isn’t quite as much of a problem as it was on the much longer “Copperhead“. The music hits all the right notes (and chords), and is very enjoyable, but (as an album) just misses out on delivering the punch it so desperately needs.

Rating [3/5]


1. Bleed For Love – Jennifer Hudson (4:03)
2. Sunrise – Laurent Eyquem (3:15) *
3. A New Season – Laurent Eyquem (1:59) *
4. Halleluja (La Passionata) – St. Teresa’s Intermediate School Choir (2:21)
5. Sound of Hope – Laurent Eyquem (1:40) *
6. Enchantment – Laurent Eyquem (1:38) *
7. You Could – Sidney James (1:47)
8. Jozi Jive ’55 – Ben Amato (2:05)
9. Dreams – Laurent Eyquem (2:28) *
10. A Wedding Song – Laurent Eyquem (1:26) *
11. Lakutshon Ilanga – Manhattan Brothers (2:42)
12. On the Run – Laurent Eyquem (3:43) *
13. Anxious Moments – Laurent Eyquem (1:55) *
14. Death Sentence – Laurent Eyquem (1:57) *
15. Passing of Time – Laurent Eyquem (1:48) *
16. Lovers in Prison – Laurent Eyquem (2:02) *
17. Freedom – Laurent Eyquem (2:02) *
18. Nguye Lo – Twalamato (2:29)
19. Separation – Laurent Eyquem (1:43) *
20. Winter Clouds – Laurent Eyquem (1:14) *
21. Separation / Isolation – Laurent Eyquem (2:02) *
22. Memories – Laurent Eyquem (1:11) *

(Total score running time: 33:02)



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