The controversial new film “New Jack City” is a black, inner-city story, directed by a black filmmaker, featuring songs by rap and soul artists Ice-T, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, 2 Live Crew, Troop, LeVert and Queen Latifah. So why did Warner Bros. hire a white guy from Lyon, France, to write the film’s gritty, rhythmic score?
“There was a scheduling problem, and Wally Badarou (the African-born composer originally hired) couldn’t deliver on time,” said Gary LeMel, president of Warners’ music division.
At LeMel’s suggestion, director Mario Van Peebles turned to 52-year-old Michel Colombier, and he put together a score in three weeks--half the normal time.
“The point was to retain the essence of black music--tribal percussions,” Colombier said. But the composer also captured the sounds of the street: you can hear the hissing intake of a crack cocaine pipe in between the Brazilian drums and blues guitars.
If Van Peebles had any doubts about Colombier, they were eased by a glance at the composer’s resume. Trained in classical music, Colombier has also been the only white musician in a Caribbean band and has played on stage with Earth, Wind and Fire. Now he writes film scores, avant-garde music for Twyla Tharp’s dancers, and ballets. “There’s no racism in music,” Colombier insists. “You’re either a good musician or you’re not.”