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AFRIKA – Wataru Hokoyama

December 31, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Joseph W. Bat

Now here is an interesting combination: a Japanese developer making a game that is entirely set in Africa, and a musical score recorded in Hollywood. Announced in 2006 for Sony’s Playstation3 as simply Afrika, game developer Rhino Studios’ game has a simple approach. You play as a photographer hired to travel to Africa and are given missions to take photographs of the various wild animals and landscapes found within Africa. While not your typical game, Afrika has been praised for its vivid detailed recreation of Africa and many gamers have been importing the game from Japan since the game is only available in Asia.

For the musical requirements of Afrika, upcoming composer Wataru Hokoyama was hired to write a bold and lush score. Born in Japan and musically trained in America and under such composers as Christopher Young and Elmer Bernstein, Wataru had written relatively smaller projects. To capture the filmic sound of the music, the entire score was recorded in Hollywood at both Sony and Paramount sound stages with a large number of members of the Hollywood Studio Symphony. The final result is really impressive and something you’ll be listening to over and over again.

During the promotional run for the game not many people knew what to expect musically from the game or if there would be any music at all. It was during the late promotional run for the game that gamers got a taste of what to expect musically from the game with its rousing main theme. Presented at the closing of the soundtrack, the rousing theme for Afrika is thematically bold and heroic. One doesn’t need trained ears to hear the immediate John Williams influence here in the theme and in much of the rest of the score. Think John Williams’ An American Journey for a frame of reference. This is certainly not bad news. Anyone wanting that old school Williams sound from the late 80s and 90s are going to want to own this soundtrack. Many of the musicians previously worked with Williams and it was not by chance the score was mixed by Shawn Murphy. While the main theme is the big highlight of the score there are many others.

The soundtrack opens calmly with “Savanna”, featuring a beautiful melody played by strings, woodwinds, and later the rest of the orchestra to portray the beauty of the African landscape. While for the most part the score is traditional orchestra, there are moments of more ethnic sounding music, such as in the percussive heavy “Base Camp”, “Masai”, and “Hatari”. But these moments are surprisingly restrained and less traditional African sounding. The first appearance of the main theme as an action piece is found in “Safari”. The theme here is like a ride, continuously building and changing from different parts of the orchestra. Africa isn’t all about the beauty of its landscape, but also the dangers. In “Mission” and “Hunting” the whole orchestra is at work as the music becomes more frantic and serious. These are the two Jurassic Park inspired action tracks of the soundtrack with a lot of the woodwind and brass performances you would expect from those scores. The fun returns with “Jambo Jambo” and “Okapi”. The highlight being “Jambo Jambo”, opening with a strong fanfare of the main theme and then moving into a great songlike melody for strings, brass, and percussion layered underneath. The soundtrack continues strong to the end with a strong closing with the heroic “Big Five”, reflective sounding “Sunset”, and of course the main theme “Afrika”.

When you finish listening to Afrika for the first time you are left with having experienced something refreshing. Hokoyama has left a strong impression with the wonderful music he has composed. It is only a shame that many people may pass this soundtrack by because of the release. Currently, the soundtrack, like the game, is only available in Japan. You are forced to import the soundtrack (not cheaply). However, the soundtrack presentation is great and packed full of extras. Not only do you get all the music from the game, but it also comes packed with a bonus DVD featuring behind the scenes and the entire score in 5.1 Surround Sound. Although be warned the behind the scenes material is mostly in Japanese, but you do hear from several musicians and crew from Hollywood who worked on the score. In total there is only about 33minutes of music, but you are left satisfied with this surprisingly. This is a soundtrack you cannot pass up.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Savanna (3:40)
  • Base Camp (3:05)
  • Safari (2:50)
  • Mission (1:49)
  • Jambo Jambo (2:05)
  • Heaven (2:15)
  • Masai (1:40)
  • Hunting (2:02)
  • Okapi (1:32)
  • Night Safari (2:17)
  • Hatari (1:40)
  • Big Five (1:53)
  • Sunset (2:49)
  • Afrika (3:48)

Running Time: 33 minutes 25 seconds

Columbia Music Entertainment COZX-331 (2008)

Music composed and conducted by Wataru Hokoyama. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Wataru Hokoyama. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Album produced by Wataru Hokoyama.

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