Assassin’s Creed Black Flag Freedom Cry composer Olivier Deriviere needed something special to score the story of Adewale. Here’s how he achieved a truly unique musical experience.

As a spinoff of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Freedom Cry is a self-contained story focusing on Edward’s quartermaster, Adewale. Adewale escaped the bonds of slavery at a young age and sought a life of his own on the Jackdaw, serving under Edward Kenway. Set 15 years after joining the Jackdaw’s crew (a storyline explored in Black Flag) Freedom Cry finds Adewale on his own adventure when he is shipwrecked in Saint-Domingue without his crew or weapons.

Unlike other Assassin’s Creed titles, this installment is unique in that its focus is not the Assassins against the Templars. Freedom Cry is the personal journey of a man who frees himself from slavery and turns assassin with a bigger mission in mind – until he is stranded in Saint-Domingue. There, he witnesses his people’s suffering, rediscovers his own roots, and finally decides to intervene.

As a long-time fan of the franchise, I know how historically precise the architecture, dates, and characterdesigns/wardrobes, etc. are. I wanted to treat the Freedom Cry score with that same historical accuracy, while also providing a musical narrative specific to Adewale’s personal journey.

Therefore, the Freedom Cry music needed traditional Haitian songs to infuse the soundtrack with cultural, historical, and emotional poignancy in a way my score would not manage by itself. However, on its own, historical accuracy would not necessarily describe the game’s specific story arc, which sees our hero cast aside his indifference toward the atrocities of slavery, gradually becoming more involved until he ultimately embraces the plight of his people. In short, the soundtrack needed both – but it wasn’t going to be as simple as building a score of my own music around some generic, pre-recorded traditional Haitian songs – that was simply not going to work. To successfully achieve an eloquent and articulate sound, the Haitian songs would have to cooperate seamlessly and synergistically with the main score.

In light of all this, I submitted a special plan to Ubisoft – I would compose the music with a very western flavor – but only as a starting point. As the composing progressed, my style would be increasingly influenced by the Haitian songs.

The first step was to record La Troupe Makandal – a group of musicians dedicated to Haitian music – at Avatar Studio in New York City. Next, I was off to Belgium, to record a 40-piece strings orchestra performed by the Brussels Philharmonic at Galaxy Studios. All of this to capture the emotional power behind Adewale returning to his roots, and to imbue the gamer with that moving experience.

The journey of the music production itself was equally moving, and hopefully somewhat cathartic. As I’ve mentioned, the game centers on the slavery of the African people at the hands of the French and the Belgians. And here we all are, centuries later, reuniting the same groups of people and creating music that revisits the legacy of the slaves. It was also ‘funny’ to watch the faces of the Belgian musicians as they grappled with certain parts of the score, and its very Haitian rhythmic figures that are so far removed from their habits. They embraced the challenge with exaltation.

The result was a unique music that merges both cultures in an equal and complementary manner. Where any game I score is concerned, I put as much forethought as possible into the music, but I must say, this game in particular extended far beyond [my own perception]. To score an Assassin’s Creed game is a true honor, an incredible challenge, and I believe we went as deep as we possibly could to support both the subject matter and the player’s experience.

  • axemtitanium

    Do you feel any tension between your own background and being asked to adapt native Haitian songs to a video game? Do you think you brought a unique perspective that a Haitian composer could not have to the project?

    • Olivier Deriviere

      There was no tension at all since it was on my proposition that we went to do this. Ubisoft was planning to buy some pre-recorded haitian songs but I felt that would it be really limitative for both the music integration and the meaning. About your second question, I didn’t choose the songs, I let “La Troupe Makandal” pick the ones they tought would be the best as I wanted to express their freedom as well. To hire an Haitian composer was not really necessary as we needed the genuine songs from that very period of time.