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V/A - Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey (Original Soundtrack)

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Artist: V/A

Album: Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey (Original Soundtrack)

Label: Latitude/Locust Music

Review date: Jun. 13, 2005

Equal parts exploitation, ethnography, and straight-up action flick, Cornel Wilde\'s The Naked Prey presented an intriguing spin on the old short story The Most Dangerous Game, that staple of high school lit classes in which our erstwhile protagonist is hunted for sport by another human being. Wilde\'s picture was set entirely in 18th century Africa, featuring him in the title role as a man whose safari is ambushed and tortured, leaving him almost entirely in the buff fleeing a group of angry tribesmen through the jungle. By any standards, The Naked Prey was a significant deviation from normal Hollywood fare (and according to the liner notes, a big influence on the young Coen brothers) - mostly wordless, featuring a host of non-actors in central roles, and most importantly for our purposes, possessing a soundtrack made up entirely of \"African music, played by Africans on African instruments.\" Originally released on the Folkways label around the release of the film, the soundtrack for The Naked Prey has subsequently been rescued and resuscitated as part of Locust Music\'s continuing Latitude series, spotlighting indigenous musics from around the world.

Ostensibly, the reasons for Wilde\'s soundtrack decisions seem obvious - a collection of traditional African music simultaneously helps to establish both the setting and the \"otherness\" of the proceedings, leaving any and all musical responses to be interpreted in whatever their natural context might be, almost an extension of cinema verite. No one is entirely clear as to how Wilde collected the performances amassed here - the notes indicate a slightly exploitative tactic of simply showing up to particular villages and encouraging inhabitants to perform for his tape recorders. Whatever the case may be, the tracks contained herein were recorded in a variety of Nguni villages (on the Southeast coast of Africa), and as such are comprised almost entirely of vocal choruses and some spare percussion (drums, handclaps, and the like).

Without knowing the exact origins and recording details of the music for The Naked Prey, it\'s rather difficult to judge its value as actual ethnographic work. But such a distinction is unnecessary seeing as this music was collected primarily for its aesthetic value in the context of a film. However, that doesn\'t diminish its historical and/or social value in any way, as the music itself is quite simply outstanding. \"Courting Song\" is a great call and response piece, relying solely on a chorus of males, a deep baritone lead, and a few other voices jockeying for position. \"Dancing Song\" and \"Puberty Song\" work in similar ways, switching up tempos and lead vocal tones in accordance with whatever ritual they correspond to.

\"Boasting Song of Men\" ushers in a suite of selections that feature more percussive elements in the form of traditional hand drumming. Some of these performances seem strangely rudimentary, but tracks like \"Drinking Song\" work well with sparse beats and arching polyphonic voices. Two tracks in the second half of the record take in larger village performances (as opposed to the smaller ensembles that make up much of the early material). Consequently, the village recordings are the first time female voices are audibly heard in the soundtrack. In both the \"Village Work Songs\" and the \"Village Celebration\" selections, a wealth of voices rise up from the din of many, leading forth songs that are always threatening to be lost amid the hum of the crowd. The second half of \"Village Celebration\" focuses solely on the instrumental side of things, matching drums against what sound like a variety of different wind instruments. The disc closes out with sound effects - stock crowd noise, and animal sounds of both the imitated and real nature.

As far as being a document of traditional African music, The Naked Prey soundtrack doesn\'t really hit the mark. However, it should be noted that it wasn\'t really something that Wilde was shooting for in all likelihood. There are a variety of other Folkways and Nonesuch Explorer Series records that do a better job of examining the music from different African communities. It should be noted, however, that this disc came about at a time when such field recordings (or the thought of releasing them commercially) were still in their most embryonic form. What remains, however, is an excellent collection of (at the time, and even still now) rarely heard song forms that are rousing, touching, funny, and often beautiful, sampling from a variety of different every day uses.

By Michael Crumsho

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