There’s been a lot of conversation lately about how people can respectfully include music, characters or other important aspects of a culture or other minority group into what you’re creating. And while ‘just hire someone from that group to do all of it’ is the best way most of the time, Meena Shamaly’s PAX Online panel on the weekend gave great insight not just into how video game soundtracks are made, but how to be inclusive and respectful while making it.
Shamaly is well known to listeners of ABC Classic as the host of the weekly video game music show. He’s also the composer on new game Innchanted from DragonBear Studios, which is set in an Australian Indigenous-inspired fantasy world.
Not being Indigenous himself, his first task was to work out how to make the music as respectful and authentic as possible, while making sure it meaningfully served the game.
Part of how he decided to make it all come together was based on his experiences as a session musician, being asked to use instruments and techniques from his Middle Eastern heritage in a way he deemed appropriate with the trust of those composers. He also thought about the Scandinavian composer who created fitting music for Assassin’s Creed using Middle Eastern musicians.
The next step was to do a deep dive into listening to Indigenous musicians like Baker Boy, Mo’Ju, Drmngnow, Deborah Cheetham, and William Barton. It was from hearing how William Burton played his didgeridoo with so many other musicians playing so many other culturally significant instruments, while keeping his “practice firmly rooted in his culture, but never static”.
For Shamaly, “it wasn’t about trying to recreate the sound of Indigenous culture, but rather let First Nations musicians express themselves, and shine a light on them, and collaborate with them. It’s a conversation, it’s a collaboration, it’s evolution, it’s rooted in culture, but never static.”
The next step was to invite the musicians into the studio to play the game and then play their instrument with the inspiration of the game.
If you’re interested in video game music, or respectfully including other cultures in soundtracks, this panel is a must watch. It’s most certainly one of the best convention panels I’ve ever seen. You can find it here (Shamaly’s panel starts around 1:40:00)