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Whilst the motion picture soundtrack for Babel features songs by
many different artists, the score for the film was composed by one
man: acclaimed Argentine musician and composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
The combined score and soundtrack to Babel comprise two discs of
"music from and inspired by the motion picture," a collection that
deftly binds Santaolalla's poignant aural meditations with a glue of
contemporary pop musings spanning from Tijuana to
Gustavo Santaolalla's score for Babel has been described by critics
as hypnotic and meditative, contrasting with the hauntingly tragic
plot and themes of the film. With titles like "Breathing Soul," "The
Blinding Sun," "Two Worlds, One Heart," "Morning Pray," and The Skin
Of The Earth," it's clear these introspective and
consciousness-expanding effects on the listener were precisely as
intended. Although a South American composer, Santaolalla describes
a rich North African musical landscape to back the film, juxtaposing
indigenous Arabian string instruments with field recordings of the
tribal music of Morocco.
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score for Babel earned Santaolalla one of his two Academy Awards for
Best Original Score, the other being for 2005's Brokeback Mountain.
Santaolalla also composed the score for Babel director Alejandro
González Iñárritu's 21 Grams and Amores Perros, considered two parts
of a trilogy of which Babel is the third and final. In addition to
the Best Score Oscar, the music to Babel won Santaolalla the BAFTA
Award for Best Film Music and a nomination for the Best Original
Score Golden Globe Award. The two-disc soundtrack for the film,
meanwhile, was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award.
Santaolalla's "Deportation," often considered the unofficial theme
of the film, combines with a track called "Iguazu" which,
interestingly enough, the composer had previously used in several
other venues, including the Michael Mann films "The Insider" and
"Collateral," the HBO series Deadwood and an '07 Vodafone television
The pronounced Japanese influences in the collection are exemplified
by Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Only Love Can Conquer Hate" and Susumu
Yolota's "Gekkoh," both of which echo with the dueling sorrow of
things lost and the anticipation of things to come. The Norteño
influences from the likes of Daniel Luna, Los Incomparables and Los
Tucanes De Tijuana then burst through like a hearty serving of
authentic spicy Mexican seasoning added to give the contemplative
score some of its bite. Bridging the two tonal worlds is Chavela
Vargas crooning a savory torch melody called "Tu Me Acostumbraste,"
one which will call out any lovers' passion and reignite their
hunger. Then, when from the other side of the border Amadeo Pace
sings his brooding counterpoint, "World Citizen," he carries the
pain of the world and its yearning for connection in his cry.
As modern as it is authentically indigenous, the Babel soundtrack
album also features a lively sampling of pop, most notably, perhaps,
a mash-up of Earth, Wind and Fire's timeless Motown hit "September"
with Fatboy Slim's driving rendition of the Steve Miller Band's
classic, "The Joker." Equally exhilarating is Japanese pop star
Takashi Fujii's infectious club hit "Oh My Juliet!" Then there's the
ska/reggae fusion of La Blanquito's "Cumbia Sobre El Rio" and the
catchy melodic hip-hop of Rip Slyme's "Masterpiece."
This diverse collection of disparate music sewn together by
Santaolalla's score and Iñárritu's story closes with another Ryuichi
Sakamoto track, this the simple but captivating "Bibo no Aozora/04,"
a slow and sombre but sultry dance between piano and cello.
In the Bible story of Babel, the Lord punishes the people who
deigned to cheat their way to heaven by causing them all to speak a
different language from one another. While in Alejandro González
Iñárritu's film, like in the ancient story, this disconnect leads to
tragic consequences, in the music to Babel the disparity in voices
weaves a seamless tapestry of unity in a single language that is at
once harmoniously dissonant and dissonantly harmonious.