It is crucial for a filmmaker that their film is memorable; that it leaves a lasting imprint on the mind of the viewer and in addition to the visuals, music, over the years, has played a vital role in improving the overall experience of many compelling films.
Music, for the longest time, has had a fundamental place in film and television; it serves as a vital backdrop that helps accentuate just about anything from tension to suspense, glee to sadness and it generally instructs, albeit subtly, the audience how to feel. But how did music come to become so important in film? Even before there was spoken dialogue in cinema, there was music. During the silent era of film (1894-1929), there was no recorded synchronized sound in films. Instead, dialogue appeared on short title cards between shots.
In the absence of sound, live orchestras or in-house pianists performed music alongside films. A screening with live music served two purposes. First, it masked the horrible noise created by projectors, and second, it provided a sense of reality to the audience. Through the fusion of sound and image, they could look beyond the two-dimensional aspect of the film and become immersed in the action. Since the advent of talkies (films with spoken dialogue) in the 1930s, in-house pianists and orchestras have slowly been dying out. As a result, film composers were now able to create specific scores that could be used throughout movie screenings, leading to the creation of original score music. Max Steiner composed the score for 'King Kong' (1933), the first film to use a fully original score.
From there on, producers were able to determine exactly how the film would make audiences feel through the original film score. By choosing the right score, producers could create the desired effect they want for their films. While it's not certain, the first known African-related film with a proper soundtrack seems to have been Os Mergulhadores na África Portuguesa (Divers in Portuguese Africa), from 1897. The film “A Zulu War Dance,” produced by the British Mutoscope & Biograph Company in 1899, featured an “exhibition by Frank Filis's company of Zulu and Swazi warriors in native costume.” This may be the first film specifically The Film Score and the African Musical Experience.
It is crucial for a filmmaker that their film is memorable; that it leaves a lasting imprint on the mind of the viewer and generally, the type of music that is used in a movie determines its retention by the viewer. Good films tend to appeal to multiple senses at once and music is one such medium that can both heighten and stimulate the sense of hearing, making the film an even more enjoyable one.
Music, for centuries, has been an integral part of films across the world including African films. In 2005, the popular Nigerian film Osuofia in London became a household name with its memorable score, a huge part of its success. The music resonated with a lot of Nigerians who watched the classic film as the music helped to further project the story that the film intended to tell.
Aside from Osuofia, there are many examples of iconic theme music from movies that sometimes go on to become just as popular as the motion picture itself. The moment you hear it, you immediately get reminded of the film. The conditioning of the mind is such that imagining a movie without music is almost impossible. There are a lot of films that have run on the back of good music significantly. The type of music that plays during a movie plays a significant role in underlining what is being portrayed in terms of the development of the storyline. This ultimately changes the perception that a person has of a situation. Thus, music in the film sometimes acts as a guiding light for the viewer who is trying to make sense of the story.
African films have indeed come leaps and bounds when it comes to their soundtrack compositions. Years ago, what passed for a movie soundtrack was usually a shabby mix of tunes and lyrics that mostly gave away a lot about the movie you were already going to watch. Thankfully, that has changed. The value and stock of soundtracks have risen to much better standards now. Interestingly enough, the problem was never an issue of talent and capacity, this has always been available. There was however a gaping disconnect between the film and music industry, a divide that has been bridged over the past few years.
In the last couple of years, brilliant soundtracks have accompanied some memorable movies and this has made the viewing experience so much better. George Nathaniel 2015’s blockbuster Falling, a compelling drama that follows the lives of a married couple whose love was put to test after her husband’s tragic accident, was accompanied by original music that helped to create a pace that took the story to a whole new level. Other notable original soundtracks like Brymo’s “In the City” and “Araromire”, the soundtrack for the multiple award-winning film The Figurine by Kunle Afolayan, “Tene” by Larry Gaga and Flavour from Living In Bondage and “Stay With Me” by Ighwiyisi Jacobs have succeeded in living long in the mind of many.
As we are just beginning to grasp the potential of music in African film, it seems that there is much more to discover as this sector has a lot more to offer than it currently does. By using anachronistic methods, we can uncover subtle evolutions in original African soundtracks and gain insight into the evolving perspectives of diverse national and international film communities in light of a dynamic and evolving Africa. We can also definitely anticipate more African composers composing original film scores both now and in the coming years, in what seems to be a promising and growing future for African cinema and its music.