"Lamya's Poem" is an animated movie which tells the tale of Lamya, a 12-year-old girl living in war-torn Syria. She is forced to flee the violence when the war reaches her city of Aleppo, and she becomes a refugee. Her tutor gives her a book of poetry by Rumi, a celebrated 13th century poet, who himself was a refugee who had to escape wars during his own time. Through a magical gateway she meets the young poet, and together in dreamland they face various monsters and other threats that represent their own perils. In a Timey-Wimey twist Lamya assists the young Rumi to write the poem that 800 years later will help to save her life. The story was written by Alexander Kronemer who also directs and co-produces the animation, and you can see the film's trailer on YouTube. The film premiered at the 60th Annecy International Animation Film Festival receiving glowing reviews, and the soundtrack is due to be released on September 15th.
The composer Christopher Willis was engaged for music scoring duties. In recent years Willis has composed the music for "The Death of Stalin" and "The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)", both for director Armando Iannucci. And his television credits include the series "Schmigadoon!", "Veep" (with co-composer Rupert Gregson-Williams) and the "Demon 79" episode of "Black Mirror". But he also comes with a wealth of experience scoring animations with credits for the series "Mickey Mouse", "The Lion Guard", "AquaMouse" and "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse" and the Game "Jumanji: The Curse Returns". With that range of experience he seems well-suited to scoring "Lamya's Poem", but this animation was also a learning experience. The composer says "I learned a really important lesson from the filmmakers on Lamya's Poem: movies made in Syria by Syrians don't have soundtracks full of Middle Eastern tropes, the way many Hollywood movies set in the Middle East do. And one thing we wanted above all was for this film to resonate with Middle Eastern audiences. Any culturally specific instrument should earn its place in the soundtrack."
Willis evidently decides that an ethnic instrument from this part of the world is indeed justified, and his chosen instrument is the ancient Persian ney. It is a woodwind instrument like a recorder or end-blown flute, made from a bamboo-like reed, and with a distinctive breathy quality. On the film this is played by Hossein Omoumi, one of the world's foremost performers on the instrument, and represents the poet Rumi and his poetry. Early parts of the film though are concerned with introducing the girl Lamya and her situation. While bombs drop around her, Lamya finds she can escape into a dreamworld. The first track "Fireflies" plays over the opening credits. As fireflies dance around the rich fantasy land of her dreams, we hear harp, violin and small string chamber group depicting the beauty and apparent safety of the magical kingdom, but the music turns darker hinting at real world events. This track has been released as a single and you can hear it on streaming services such as YouTube.
The next track "Listen to the Reed" introduces the breathy and atmospheric Persian Ney, while "The Attack" is dark and percussive, with harsh straining sounds. Then "Meeting in the Dream World" is a (dream) world away with the string combination of low pizzicato and high slides, and more strings give a reverent feel for "The Dream City". The contrast continues when we return to the real world with "Bombs" and "Leaving Home", before the story continues in the magical land. The music is quite varied in terms of instrumental combinations and techniques, and a wordless female voice enters with "Into The Depths". The longest track is "Fighting Hate" full of darkness initially with beating percussive sounds and harsh hits, before reaching a form of resolution with romantic strings. Willis treads a fine line to make the film approachable without being too sacharine on the one hand, while also painting enough of the harsh realities of war without scaring potentially family viewers. It's a line that requires good judgement as well as compositional skills, and Willis displays both, employing a carefully crafted mix of sound design techniques, small chamber groupings, the aforementioned Persian ney, and full orchestral textures.
The soundtrack album is released on 15th September, from which date it shound be available to stream here. In the meantime here's a reminder that the single "Fireflies" is already available here and the film trailer here. The composer's website is at ChristopherWillisComposer.com.