Original Review by Alan Rogers

Quand Les Égyptiens Naviguaient Sur La Mer Rouge (When The Egyptians Sailed On The Red Sea) is a French TV documentary from 2009 that follows American archaeologist Cheryl Ward as she builds a replica Egyptian ship (from around 1500BC) and attempts to retrace the voyage of a fleet of five ships to the mysterious land of Punt, thus proving that the Egyptians were a seafaring people. Directed and co-written by Stéphane Bégoin, the documentary, in typical Discovery Channel style, is a mix of following present-day archaeologists as they build a picture of events during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (whose time as Pharaoh encouraged the establishment of trade relations) and of dramatic reconstructions of the period. Scoring the documentary is French-born composer Bernard Becker (El Guerrero Sin Nombre) who provides an interesting and effective score that is made up of two different aspects.

Becker seems to have decided to split the score into two different “sounds”. One half the score has a particularly ethnic feel to it. Through the use of specific instruments (ethnic woodwinds, percussion) and musical style (melodies and rhythms), the composer effectively conjures up a sense of place both in terms of location as well as time. The opening track “Le Mystérieux Pays de Punt” highlights this, setting the scene for the documentary and the score with a breathy woodwind that plays out a seductive melody. The use of ethnic woodwinds and exotic rhythms is heard several times throughout the score (e.g., “A Bord du Navire” and “Les Portes du Temple”). A particularly effective use of the ethnic woodwind can be found in “La Reine Hatshepsout” and “Le Ciel d’Égypte”. Solo woodwind plays a reflective, almost sad melody that seems associated with the Pharaoh Queen herself. 

The second part of Becker’s score is based around the string section of the orchestra and uses repeating string patterns and motifs that act as mood setters for the endeavours of the archaeologists, particularly for their journey down the length of the Red Sea (most scholars agree that the Land of Punt is most likely the Horn of Africa). For what I would imagine would be an exciting time for the archaeologists, the music seems particularly sad (“Au Fil de L’Eau” and “Sur La Mer Rouge”). “Sur La Mer Rouge” is a particularly beautiful track; a small ensemble of strings providing an emotional centrepiece to the score. Dramatic staccato strings in “Temps Menaçant” add a sense of peril and urgency that undoubtedly underscores some sort of crisis that has befallen either the archaeologists or the Egyptian seafarers.

Bernard Becker’s score to Quand Les Égyptiens Naviguaient Sur La Mer Rouge is a worthwhile score. The ethnic elements are not in any way overbearing and the split between the ethnic music and the string-centred Western-styled music means that the score remains fresh. The melody heard in “La Reine Hatshepsout” is reason enough to hunt this album down at your preferred online digital download store.

Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on blue arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.

Rating: ***

  1. Le Mystérieux Pays de Punt (1:57)
  2. A Bord du Navire (0:59)
  3. La Reine Hatshepsout (2:18)
  4. Au Fil de L’Eau (2:19)
  5. Les Portes du Temple (1:44)
  6. Sur La Mer Rouge (3:11)
  7. Au Travail (2:45)
  8. Le Ciel d’Égypte (2:44)
  9. Temps Menaçant (1:39)
  10. L’Oracle (2:34)
  11. Les Dauphins (1:39)
  12. L’Odeur des Orangers* (1:22)
  13. Le Retour de Punt (2:09)
*Composed by Arnaud de Boisfleury

Running Time: 27:25

Koka Media (2009)


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