Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema

Composed by: Alan Lazar

Distributed by: Lakeshore Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Inspired by actual events, the movie Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema offers a glimpse into the crime-infested district of Johannesburg and the transgressions committed by those simply trying to survive in its streets.  The movie stars Rapulana Seiphemo as Lucky Kunene, a smalltime criminal who sets his sights on the big score, hoping that it will bring him closure to achieving his dream - getting out of the slums and living in a house by the sea.  Unfortunately, to achieve this goal, Lucky becomes involved in more violent crimes to earn more money.  This puts him at odds with the brutal members of local law enforcement and a local drug lord.  Can Lucky find a way to achieve his dreams and go straight before his luck runs out?

            The soundtrack of Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema was created by Alan Lazar, a South African-born composer.  A child prodigy who composed arrangements for and conducted the National Symphony Orchestra, Lazar enjoyed enormous success with Mango Groove, a multiracial platinum selling musical group.  He wrote the 1996 South African Song of the Year, African Dream, which was performed at the inauguration of South Africa’s second democratic president.  He has written music for over 30 films and television programs, including Swamp Troop, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, Sex and the City and Real Housewives of New York City.

            Director Ralph Ziman wanted his viewers to be completely immersed in the South African culture in which Gangster’s Paradise: Jeruselema is set.  To that end, Alan Lazar decided to record music in both South Africa and in Los Angeles.  In South Africa, Lazar employed a twelve-piece African drumming ensemble led by Godfrey Mgcina, multi-instramentalist Mosoeu Ketlele providing the sounds of numerous unique ethnic instruments (including the amanzi, storotoro, mbira and a cut-off garden hose that swung in the air, producing a unique flutey sound) and vocals by Sipho Nxumalo and Beaulah Hashe singing lyrics by Lazar and Marilyn Nokwe.  In Los Angeles, Lazar assembled a 50-piece orchestra minus violins, because Lazar believed that they sounded strange amongst all of the unique African sounds.  Instead, the emphasis in this orchestra was on the French horns and double basses to provide a rich and polished orchestral sound to go along with the improvisational sound of the African musicians.

            The result is an incredibly unique and beautiful soundtrack well worth the listen.  From the very first track of the Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema Soundtrack, I was mesmerized.  I am a sucker for exotic sound and this album is infused by the exotic music native to the South African culture.  The events that take place in the film are dramatically expressed in the music and vocals found in this soundtrack.  The vocals bring a sort of sad beauty to the pain and suffering felt by the people struggling to survive in Johannesburg. 

            Each track is unique in its style and beauty and listening to them transports you to another world where survival is key and tragedy is a way of life.  Lazar has more than achieved the goals that Ralph Ziman set down for him.  The Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema Soundtrack is not only a perfect accompaniment to the film itself, but makes for an exotically beautiful stand alone album and a perfect addition to my movie soundtrack collection.

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