- The Hyperdub artist harnesses her natural sense for melody in this quietly powerful soundtrack.
- The most pervasive sound in Mati Diop's Atlantics is not Fatima Al Qadiri's soundtrack, but the roaring, crushing noise of the ocean. It surrounds the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where the film takes place. When Souleiman, a construction worker deprived of pay by his wealthy boss, dies in a storm while fleeing Dakar by boat, the crashing waves start to represent danger and loss. From there, Atlantics becomes a magical-realist fable, following Ada, Souleiman's lover, as supernatural forces intervene in the search for justice.
There are many reasons that Al Qadiri, a Dakar-born Kuwaiti producer who makes conceptual, grime-influenced music, is well suited to soundtracking Atlantics. One reason is the outlook and experience she shares with Diop. As she explained to Film Comment, "Being a woman of color. Being Muslim, being exposed to Muslim culture, there were a lot of things that we didn't need to explain to each other." The themes embedded in Diop's story—social inequality, migration, religion—have long been part of Qadiri's own work.
There are also some things that could make Al Qadiri less suited to a film soundtrack like Atlantics. In the past she's often held her subject matter at a satirical distance. Whether the target is orientalism (Asiatisch) or the fetishisation of war (Desert Strike), Al Qadiri has often developed her critiques through reference and pastiche. This self-conscious, deliberately crude approach has worked well before. But in a soundtrack it could be an obstacle to immersion and emotional impact.
Diop had Al Qadiri in mind for the soundtrack from the very start. Her vision was spot on. All of Al Qadiri's trademarks are there—the bold melodies, unfussy sound design and textural space—but there's an added depth and pillowy softness to the tones used, and an added patience and tension in the pacing. It helps that Diop uses Al-Qadiri's music with deft restraint, allowing themes to punctuate long periods in which the only sounds are dialogue and ocean.
In one of Diop's early scenes, the camera is on Souleiman as he rides in a truck home from work. He's looking out to sea, knowing that, very soon, he will go on a journey that could lead to his death. Al Qadiri's challenge was to capture his complex emotional state. "There is despair mixed with hope, mixed with fear, mixed with a feeling of destiny, which is part of Islam," she said. "You can't be Muslim if you don't believe in destiny." The result is "Souleiman's Theme." The delicate, descending four-note motif seems to mimic the sound of waves lapping at the shore. When the bass comes in it's powerful and dread-inducing.
"Souleiman's Theme" is evidence of something else that makes Al Qadiri suited to making soundtracks—her ability to write strong, memorable melodies. It's a skill Al Qadiri has often used in her stripped-back grime instrumentals, and it comes out more than ever here, where melodies take on specific meanings. Take "Qasida," a haunting motif that accompanies each of the film's supernatural episodes. Themes like these are like alarms in an otherwise quiet film, presaging the mysterious or magical. It's an approach to film scoring that's beautifully simple, and it plays to Al Qadiri's strengths perfectly.
01. Souleiman's Theme
02. Ada And Souleiman
03. Qasida Nightmare
04. Yelwa Procession
05. Wedding Interlude
06. 10-34 Reprise
07. Qasida - Sunset Fever 1
09. Suñu Khalis
10. Qasida - Sunset Fever 2
11. Boys In The Mirror
12. Souleiman's Theme - Issa Against The Sun
13. Body Double