Drums of Africa

The third score featured on this 3CD release of Johnny Mandel music from M-G-M films is not nearly as famous as The Americanization of Emily or The Sandpiper, but it offers an opportunity to hear the composer tackle a genre he would not often visit. Drums of Africa (1963) was a B-movie adventure starring Lloyd Bochner, Frankie Avalon and Mariette Hartley mixing it up with African slavers and a fair amount of stock footage. Mandel used a reduced orchestra for budgetary purposes (heavy on the percussion) but with a melodic, jazzy bent far removed from the typical B-movie score of the era. The score interpolates a song (“The River Love”) by Russell Faith and Robert Marcucci, performed twice in the film by Avalon. This premiere release of the Drums of Africa soundtrack is newly mixed from the original 35mm three-track scoring masters.

The legal cue sheet for Drums of Africa only identified each cue with its reel-and-part desigination (e.g. 1M1); for clarity we have created descriptive cue titles for this release, shown in parentheses below.

1. 1M1 (Main Title)
The film’s main titles play over a still frame of a boat wending its way down a river—with the still rolling to life halfway through the credits. Leo the Lion (the first jungle animal glimpsed in the picture) roars away as the movie opens with a harsh guitar chord, followed by a wild flute solo. While Mandel draws much of the continuity of the score from coloristic effects and instrumental associations, he also provides two distinct vamps that drive the action in unique ways. The first vamp—associated primarily with material derived from the main title—provides harmonic support for the theme, as well as a driving triplet pattern that lends a propulsive quality to the work. The vamp makes its entrance accompanying the appearance of the still frame, quietly and with selective wind doubling.
The main theme—based on an ascending/descending minor third pattern—follows, played by trombone. As the theme progresses, more flute obbligato passages are used, partially mimicking birdcalls (a technique that would also be used in The Sandpiper).
Brass carries the bridge, which functions in a modified question-and-answer form, using a four-note phrase based on the minor-third idea as the conclusion to each pattern. It is with this grand musical movement that the still frame comes to life and the boat moves down the river. As the bridge leads back into the main theme, this call-and-response carries over as Mandel continues the solo flute patterns over the melody, exploring the extremes of instrumental range. A muted brass chord accompanies the fade-out of the credits, as another title announces the film’s setting: “Equatorial East Africa, 1897.” The film finally introduces the protagonists, Moore (Lloyd Bochner) and Ferrers (Frankie Avalon), watching wildlife on the boat.
A rollicking piece in 9/8, the main title immediately sets the tone for the work. The bridge, with its stepwise motion, is an embryonic version of some of the “Sussex” material that would appear in The Americanization of Emily.
2. 2M1A/2M1B (Enter Slavers)
Moore and Ferrers meet Cuortemayn (Torin Thatcher), a guide and explorer who has embraced native life. Moore asks Courtemayn to take them to Nambutu, where Moore will begin construction on a new railway. The trio has a lengthy discussion about the cost of progress and when Cuortemayn refuses to guide them, Moore says he will find someone else to take them. A solo flute hints at the action motive before the second vamp makes its entrance. This vamp—used in association with the film’s action sequences—is rhythmically derived from the one heard in the main title and utilizes low-end, staccato piano figures. The vamp’s syncopation also lends itself to building tension throughout the films set pieces.
The vamp appears as the film cuts away to Ruth (Mariette Hartley), a missionary running from slavers. This is a jagged work, building to a full brass climax, and eventually winding down—eliminating one instrument at a time as Moore and Cuortemayn defuse the situation. They walk back to the village, Ruth in tow, as an ominous slaver hides in the jungle.
3. 2M3B (Good Night, Ruth)
Moore makes a deal with a Portuguese tour guide, Viledo (Michael Pate), to go to Nambutu. As he leaves, he sees Ruth across the way, thus beginning the film’s romance subplot. A guitar accompanied by chords in the woodwinds begins a gentle arrangement of “The River Love,” implying the melody, before a flute states a modal version of the song’s bridge. Moore kisses Ruth to a full statement of the song’s verse. Ferrers observes all of this from his tent and accordion builds until it is derailed by a sudden sforzando. Sustained, cold textures conclude the cue as Ruth heads back to her hut, questioning her emotions.
4. 3M1/3M2 (Jungle Life)
As Moore, Ferrers and Viledo head into the jungle, a solo bass flute plays under footage of hippos milling about. This cue features further development of both rhythmic ideas and the unique instrumental textures. A skipping flute musically apes Ferrers as he imitates a nearby chimpanzee. Under this, a bass clarinet announces the arrival of a panther. The two ideas interact as Ferrers and the chimp carry on. Muted trumpets strike as the cat leaps out at Ferrers and a descending piano run emphasizes a bullet striking the panther. Moore chides Ferrers for the remainder of the cue, which consists of somber woodwind writing.
5. 3M3/4M1 (Lubaki Pillaged)
The village of Lubaki is ravaged by slavers and Mandel utilizes all manner of percussion to create sonic bedlam. As the viewer is treated to images of people being forcibly removed from their homes, a crying baby near an ever-increasing fire, and huts set alight, the cue continues to build in fury, as high trumpets shriek a death cry for the village. The film then cuts to Moore and Ferrers—abandoned in the jungle by Viledo—making their way alone and observing monkeys moving about above them; a duet between xylophone and snare drum accompanies their journey. Extensive use is made of the minor third for the xylophone, and the drums begin to overwhelm as the two explorers spot a stampede.
4M2 (Carry on, Vultures)
Moore and Ferrers move again, sighting vultures devouring unfortunate victims of the stampede; Mandel provides a breathy alto flute rendition of the main theme.
4M3 (Last Minute Reprieve)
Danger abounds as a tribal chief and several tribesmen appear before a sleeping Moore and Ferrers—spears ready to strike. A bristling brass and wind stinger is followed by a repeating electric bass and xylophone figure, which adds to the tension. A conga drum roll counts away the seconds to the duo’s imminent deaths, interrupted at the last minute by Ruth, who saves the day.
6. 5M1/6M1 A, B, C (Love Scene by the River Bank)
Moore catches Ruth drying up from a swim in the river, and they talk about their lives and their love of Africa. A repeated rolling guitar chord leads into a call and response between flute and clarinet. Mandel’s melody (which is almost a distant echo of the melodic contours of “The Shadow of Your Smile”) serves as an introduction to “The River Love.” An interloping young elephant interrupts their intimate conversation as Mandel provides a “Baby Elephant Walk” of his own, with suitably quirky orchestration. A low, brisk passage for bass clarinet follows the elephant leaving, leading into a lightly swung version of the main theme’s bridge. The music builds to a kiss as more variations on the song follow until Ferrers interrupts the conversation, as a descending chime line is cut off mid-phrase.
7. The River Love
The first performance of the Russell Faith/Robert Marcucci song, sung by Ferrers around a campfire, as Cuortemayn notices Moore taking Ruth’s hand and appears less than pleased. On screen, Kasongo (Hari Rhodes) accompanies the song on a thumb piano (which sounds suspiciously like a guitar). In addition, accordion provides a solid harmonic backing for the song. The instrumental tag for winds and pitched percussion consists of notes two through five of the song’s chorus, repeated several times, underscoring imagery of a river and birds flying. Since the recording had to be done early on in the process so Avalon could match his lip movements, it was supervised by Robert Armbruster—then head of the M-G-M music department (and conductor of Mandel’s other two M-G-M scores presented here).
8. 6M3 (Wounded Elephant)
Courtemayn spots a herd of elephants in the distance. The film cuts to a wounded elephant as a melancholy alto flute arpeggiates a G-major chord. Listen carefully and the breathing of the flutist in between phrases can be heard, echoing the animal’s final breaths. The alto flute plays throughout with a despondent, mournful passage as the elephant bathes its wound in the river. The animal begins to disappear under the waves of the river, committing suicide, and high brass chords glissando down to the lower register. The company looks on sadly, as an upward guitar pattern and final brass cadence draws the sequence to its end.
9. 7M1/7M2 (Swallowed Whole)
Cuortemayn talks to Moore about staying away from Ruth, unaware that Ruth is eavesdropping. Distressed by the nature of the conversation, she runs off and Ferrers follows her. A variant on the bridge of “The River Love,” segues into an extended solo for bass clarinet as Ruth notices a large snake in the grass, ready to attack a small rodent. Mandel exploits the very low end of the instrument, creating a sinister, insidious sound that insinuates itself into the action just as the snake does. The solo is performed with great freedom, lending an intimate sound to the terror of survival in nature, as the snake eats the rodent whole, and the camera captures the lump of the animal moving down the snake’s digestive tract.
10. 8M1A/8M1B (Ruins and Capture)
Guided by Kasongo, Ruth and Ferrers leave camp with a resolve to get Ruth to the mission at Lubaki. Cuortemayn and Moore awaken to find them gone and begin a search. The film constantly intercuts between the two pairs, building suspense, as an impressionistic solo flute line, accompanied by the ever-present drums opens this cue. The instrumentation remains sparse as Ruth and Ferrers come upon the devastated village. Snare drum leads into a reprise of material from “Lubaki Pillaged” (track 5) as the slavers capture them. Ferrers struggles with the slavers and Kasongo makes a getaway back for Moore and Cuortemayn to the sound of brass outbursts.
11. 9M2/10M1 (Forbidden Area)
A gong crash begins this tour de force for percussion. Cuortemayn, Moore, Ferrers and Kasongo have tracked Ruth to a forbidden area, complete with foreboding skeletons, slowly infiltrating their way through the jungle. Mandel makes extensive use of congas, güiro, bell tree and marimba—playing rapid rhythms in stepwise motion. As the explorers continue to make their way to Ruth, a sudden interjection from guitar adds to the off-kilter tension. The second half of this track is another percussion showcase, with more agitated rhythmic patterns over the basic beat. Mandel also increases the coloristic effects, utilizing maracas, tambourines and—most uniquely—a talking drum. The percussion builds in a pattern derivative of main theme idea and action motive, as the guitar plays an elaborate version of the idea that appears at the end of “Ruins and Capture.” Much of this second section was dialed out of the finished picture.
12. 10M2 (Dispatching Guards)
The heroes cleverly evade being seen by an Arab slave buyer (George Sawaya). Drums and marimba open the cue, which develops in ostinato, using repeated interaction between the two instruments, while a flute plays a fluid solo filled with jazz articulations. The music continues as the four quietly take out a series of guards and enter a cave where the slaver is attempting to sell Ruth. Like 10M1, a small portion of this cue was dialed out of the finished picture.
13. 10M3 (Buildup)
Ferrers carries dynamite to a weak spot in the cave and Moore sneaks his way among the slavers as an elaborate rescue attempt begins. More percussion and repeated marimba notes, combined with alto flute material, lay a bed of tension for this sequence. An undulating electric bass pattern lends a sense of urgency to the action. The alto flute references the main title toward the close of its solo and aids in providing a suave sneaking aesthetic for Moore’s plan. The cue stops suddenly as Ruth screams.
14. 10M4 (Climax)
The music begins as Moore shoots the lead slaver. The action vamp is unleashed in full, followed immediately by the action motive for trumpets, with flutes providing responses and screaming, intense obbligatos filled with flutter-tonguing. Ferrers detonates the dynamite, causing a cave-in. The cue develops the action motive to a fortissimo, unresolved conclusion, as the film fades to outside the cave.
15. The River Love (Reprise)
The explorers walk outside and a placid, gentle phrase for woodwinds gives way to the accordion as Avalon reprises “The River Love.” The arrangement is essentially the same as track 10, but here Avalon treats the melody with far more rhythmic freedom than his earlier performance (perhaps because it did not need to synchronize with the visual). As he sings, the film cuts away to the jungle, safe from the slaver threat, and provides shots of pairs of animals, including affectionate baby zebras, birds, apes and a mother lion with her cub. As the song finishes, the full orchestra gradually joins in, bringing the score to its conclusion. —