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He Named Me Malala (Thomas Newman)

November 27, 2015


Thomas Newman, 2015, Sony Classical
19 tracks, 50:56

The remarkable and inspirational true story of Malala Yousafzai is brought to the big screen by Davis Guggenheim, with a very pretty score by Thomas Newman.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

After the Taliban tries to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai emerges as a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Davis Guggenheim (of “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for Superman”) directs this documentary, which follows Malala speaking out for girls’ education and her speech at the United Nations. Thomas Newman contributes a sympathetic score.

What does it sound like?

Warm synth pads, a sparse piano melody, a vocal and some Eastern-sounding guitars are the ingredients of “66 Million Girls”, the album’s opening track. It’s a typical Thomas Newman cue. It’s melancholy, yet with a playful twist. It’s rather sparse, yet very colourful. It sounds so simple, yet offers so much detail. This is what we have come to expect from Newman, and this is what he delivers here.

Newman has written Indian-sounding music before, of course, for the two “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” films. “Malala” follows very much in that same vain, though is understandably a little less extravagant, but not less detailed and certainly no less enjoyable (in fact, I prefer “Malala” as it’s a little more subtle).

“Malala” is an album that impresses as a whole, though it’s difficult to single out any one particular cue. “A Pashtun Story” is a mesmerising cue that revolves around a descending piano motif, whilst “Candies for Books” features guitars, bells and flute.

Newman offers a typical ‘jumpy’ piano motif in “Cat Burglar”, along with various plucked and shimmering sounds. What strikes me about the “Malala” soundtrack is how upbeat most of it sounds. That shouldn’t come as a great surprise though, seeing as Malala herself is a remarkably positive person despite the hardship she’s faced throughout her early life.

Piano, flute, strumming guitars and other plucked or shimmering sounds continue to be key ingredients for the remainder of the score. Newman utilises various motifs throughout the score, making it a satisfyingly coherent listen. The descending piano from “A Pashtun Story” returns in “Speak What is in Your Soul”, a sparse piano melody from the opening track is reprised in “July”, whilst “Peace Price” and “School v. Celebrity” are based on the same playful melody (which is similar to “Cat Burglar”, but it’s not the same); and the plucked sounds in “Courtship” may already be foreshadowing the piano in “Grievous Injury”.

Is it any good?

Thomas Newman’s “He Named Me Malala” is a charming, understated score. It’s playful and colourful in a way that is typical for the composer, yet the slight Pakistani instrumentation provides this score with a unique-ish palette. The sparse piano, the twinkly sounds and the ambient synth pads do all remind of previous Newman scores (most of all “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”), yet come together beautifully here. It’s impossibly to point out any specific highlights and as such it’s not a score for ‘instant gratification’; instead it requires and deserves a little more attention. The score as a whole equates to a lot more more than just the sum of its parts.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. A Pashtun Story (2:16)
02. I Am Malala (2:24)
03. Which Camera Now? (1:11)
04. July 12 (2:01)
05. Ideology (1:56)
06. Headmaster (2:04)
07. Old Life New Life (1:58)
08. Bonfires (1:28)
09. Cat Burglar (1:20)
10. School v. Celebrity (1:44)
11. Courtship (1:16)
12. Birmingham (2:20)
13. Radio Mullah (2:29)
14. A Fiery Speaker (2:41)
15. Night (1:25)
16. Candies for Books (1:39)
17. No More There (3:23)
18. Peace Prize( 1:04)
19. Refugees (4:34)
20. The Women (0:55)
21. Risk (1:22)
22. Speak What Is in Your Soul (2:28)
23. Grievous Injury (4:54)
24. 66 Million Girls (2:11)
25. The Same Malala (0:45)
26. Who Really I Am (1:21)


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