Benedikt Sebastian Perkolate Online

February 2017. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: Pops Mohamed - Courtesy of Pops Mohamed. Photograph by Rod Taylor.

This year South Africans can get ready for a cinematic treat as the widely acclaimed novel of Zakes Mda, The Whale Caller, comes to the big screen. For those unfamiliar with the novel, The Whale Caller tells the the story of a love triangle between the main character known as the Whale Caller, his beloved whale Sharisha, and Saluni, the village drunk who teaches him to open his heart to people again. Perkolate spoke to film's composer, renowned South African musician Pops Mohamed to find out how he got involved and what it was like composing for his first feature film.

How did you become part of this project?

Pops Mohamed: I've worked with director Zola Maseko before, I did the score for one of his previous films called The Hottentot Venus, a documentary about Sara Baartman. He called me late in 2015 and said they're doing The Whale Caller, he felt that I might be perfect for the movie. I said well that will be fantastic. I've written music for documentaries but I haven't actually written for a full feature film. Then around April in 2016 they started sending me bits and pieces of the movie, certain sequences where they would want music, just a try-out. I wrote the music and they just absolutely loved it.

I spent the next couple of months working and changing certain parts of it as the movie as it was being edited. It was quite challenging, it was all new to me but I love challenges so that was absolutely amazing. And also the actors were so inspiring. It's a purely South African product, I felt so proud, everyone gave their best. Also I saw the behind-the-scenes and I was inspired to see what was going on. They had interviews with various actors as well as the author Zakes Mda and it gives you a lot of inspiration when people put in so much into a movie.

“...It was quite challenging, it was all new to me but I love challenges so that was absolutely amazing...” - Pops Mohamed

I actually put everything aside, I postponed a few of my concerts to concentrate on the movie because we had a deadline. It was fantastic, I just enjoyed working with the music. What I'm planning to do right now at the moment as we speak, I'm mixing out the full tracks and hopefully this year in April when the movie is released, I will release the CD with the original score to coincide with that. The musicians that I used on the album were absolutely amazing.

The opening scene of the movie gives you shivers as you hear the angelic voices of Abuheng Mkhonza and Sinethemba Makanya, while Mabeleng Moholo keeps a steady rhythm on the indigenous Zulu drum which is an intriguing part of this gospel song. Duduzile Majola for instance, a very talented musician. I actually got goosebumps at the end of the movie where one of the characters goes through a transformation and the music there was just stunning, Dudu actually cried while she was recording it because it was done in real time, as we watch the picture, we record the music, so you feel that you're part of the movie.

How do you approach composing music for specific scenes?

Pops Mohamed: Well you have to know the story, and if it's a love scene, what music do you play when there's a love scene? Do you actually add music to a love scene or do you just leave it to play out with the ooh's and the aah's? For instance when they're making love for the first time, and then of course it being the Whale Caller I wondered if I should put the sound of whales in the background, but then you have to consider how far they are from the beach, will they be able to hear them?

Will he make better love to this women if he can hear the sound of whales, you have to consider those kind of things you know? And then the next morning, where he says to her last night was so beautiful, he's being so poetic but then she says "ag come on man, it was only sex". Then you have to say okay, let me go back to the scene, let me go listen to the music again, because look what she's saying now. So then you have different ideas.

Do you have a main theme song for the film?

Pops Mohamed: At the end of the movie there's this amazing track where the credit rolls, I'm still struggling to get a title for it. That track really stands out so it will be the main title of the CD. I don't want to call it The Whale Caller because obviously that will be the name of the album, I need to give it a very significant title because that's the part where Saluni goes through a whole transformation, so the theme is very strong.

It's laughter, it's love, it's comedy and to tell you honestly, I really enjoyed working on the movie. If they asked me to do it again, I'll do it over and over again.