Lamya's Poem: Soundtracking Rumi's metaphorical melodies

Lamya's Poem: Soundtracking Rumi's metaphorical melodies
4 min read
11 September, 2023
The soundtrack to the captivating refugee animation, Lamya's Poem, is set to be released this week. Composed by Emmy-award-winning composer Christopher Willis, The New Arab sat down with him to chat about his inspirations and his creative process.

Premiering at the 60th Annecy International Animation Film Festival, "Lamya's Poem" follows a young girl named Lamya who lives in war-torn Syria. First released in 2021, Lamya finds comfort in reading poetry which allows her to manage the violence and devastation she sees on a daily basis.

The film pays particular attention to Lamya’s discovery and appreciation for Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī’s poems and teachings that provide shelter in the dimmest times.

"Focusing on the truths of a refugee crisis, displacement, and war, "Lamya's Poem" exposes us to the reality of bombings, family separation, Islamophobia, and police brutality"

Throughout the film, Lamya’s and Rumi’s connection survives via a fantasy world that is a metaphorical symbol of Lamya and Rumi’s combined imagination.

This part of their fantasy epitomises their expedition and investigation of Rumi’s teachings. The fantasy world is also a bizarre, dream-like place where Lamya searches for happiness and peace, all while hoping to recover from previous traumatic encounters. Furthermore, the metaphorical themes also convey Lamya’s feelings as a refugee.

Produced by the Unity Productions Foundation, a non-profit production company that endorses pluralism via media, Lamya’s Poem effortlessly emphasises kindness over conflict.

A special aspect of the film is the soundtrack produced by Emmy-award-winning composer Christopher Willis. Holding a PhD from Cambridge University and trained at the Royal Academy of Music, Willis is also the face behind the award-winning soundtracks for The Death of Stalin and The Personal History of David Copperfield, both directed by Armando Iannucci.

Willis also co-composed the music for HBO’s Veep and has been a part of numerous Disney projects, including Mickey Mouse Shorts and the music for the Disney theme park ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Willis’ wide-ranging body of work also includes Apple TV’s Schmigadoon!, Disney Junior’s The Lion Guard and Netflix’s recent series Black Mirror. In 2021, Willis also collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra to bring new life into some of Eva Cassidy’s most precious songs. The album, I Can Only Be Me, was released in March 2023 on Blix Street Records.

To best characterise the film's anecdote, Lamya’s Poem sees Willis create a classical score, inspired by Arab melodies. 

Willis told The New Arab: “Prior to creating the soundtrack for Lamya's Poem, there was a belief that achieving a balance between different musical styles would appeal to the diverse audience the poem attracts. The goal was to avoid portraying the MENA region using overused traditional folk tropes, which could potentially offend.”

Mindful of this approach for the film, Willis uses both electronic sound design and sounds of the Persian Ney played by Hossein Omoumi, one of the world's notable performers on the Ney – signifying Rumi and his poetry.

When asked about this collaborative approach, Willis explained that both sounds combined helped to “emphasise the film’s themes of survival and conflict. We also incorporated an electronic sound design that draws on audio recordings of modern warfare.” The portrayal of escapism, for example, is obvious in tracks like ‘Fireflies’, where chamber orchestration renders size and texture resembling Lamya’s imaginary world.

Live Story

Throughout the film, fireflies are seen. For example, when the track ‘Fireflies’ plays, the audience witnesses Lamya happily entertaining herself in a secretive area, with the glowing insects dancing around her, unaware of the dark world of shadows that prowls ahead.

When listening to the track, the audience can recognise the plucked notes of the harp ringing outwards like the glow of the fireflies. 

Focusing on the truths of refugee crises, displacement, and war, Lamya's Poem unashamedly teaches us about the reality of bombings, family separation, Islamophobia, and police brutality. And yet, cheerfulness, relief, and a positive ending make this an acceptable film experience for children. By the end, Lamya's Poem makes its statement about the superior healing power of stories, poetry, and cultural conservation loud and clear.

The soundtrack of “Lamya’s Poem” will be released on September 29, 2023.

Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi