×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Black Panther’ Composer Infuses Score With Trove of African Sounds

After being assigned to score a film with a far-flung backdrop, most composers would do a little research to try to add the appropriate atmosphere.

Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish-born composer who was charged with scoring Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie and has worked with director Ryan Coogler on all of his films, didn’t just visit a university library or look at YouTube videos: He spent a month in Africa.

The result was life-changing, he tells Variety: “I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?”

Coogler says his composer (who also scored “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) returned from his sojourn with “amazing” material. “We were really interested in getting African sounds that had never been in a film like this,” he notes.

Nearly all of the unusual sounds in the “Black Panther” score were recorded in the West African nation of Senegal, where Göransson spent two and a half weeks accompanying singer-guitarist Baaba Maal on tour. Maal introduced Göransson to other Senegalese musicians, and many performed on the soundtrack.

The music that pairs with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), monarch of the film’s fictional African kingdom Wakanda, is led by six “talking drums,” which Göransson explains as “a small drum you put on your shoulder, one that does what no other percussion instrument does — it breathes.” The drummer squeezes, then loosens it to change the pitch.

Maal sings (in the Fula language) about the death of T’Challa’s father; he collaborated with Göransson on the song, heard when Wakanda is first revealed in the film. For the theme associated with usurper Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the composer used another West African instrument, the Fula flute: “It sounded sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive,” he says, and with the flutist speaking and even screaming into the flute, “it really resonated with the character.”

Göransson further found specific sounds for certain scenes. A sabar drummer performed “challenge rhythms” for T’Challa’s competitors. The kora, an African harp, and the vuvuzela, an African horn often used by fans at sporting events, provided additional color.

Having recorded hours of music in Senegal, the composer flew to South Africa, where he spent a week studying at the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown. There he sought out recordings from across the continent and played dozens of instruments.

At the same time, says Coogler, the score had to work as a superhero movie: “The music had to be anthemic, in the cinematic language that we recognize for these event movies. Ludwig is so well versed in orchestral composition, he could find a way to merge the two, and know when to go with one or the other.”

After months of writing, Göransson recorded more than two hours of music with a 92-piece London orchestra and a 40-voice choir in October and December, augmenting the African recordings and even using the orchestra to echo the multiple layers of rhythms in some of the complex drumming he first heard in Senegal. The choir sang in Xhosa, a South African language.

Massamba Diop (fore-ground) and Göransson record talking drums.
Serena McKinney

Göransson’s job wasn’t over when he finished recording. Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar was signed to add a contemporary sound to the score (as well as to curate an album of music from and inspired by the movie). Coogler says Lamar was an easy choice. “For me, it wasn’t about Kendrick’s name,” he explains. “It’s about his art.”

Coogler says that Göransson worked with Lamar and producer Sounwave “to weave in and out of his score the beautiful music that Kendrick was able to do for us.” Lamar and SZA sing the end-title song “All the Stars,” which has already hit the hip-hop charts.

The hip-hop tie-in was all in a day’s work for Göransson, who, in his other life, is producer and co-songwriter for Donald Glover’s band Childish Gambino and, like Lamar, performed on the recent Grammy Awards show. Nominated for three Grammys, including record of the year and album of the year, Göransson didn’t win, but he didn’t have time to mope about it. As soon as the ceremony ended, he was on a plane to L.A. for the premiere of “Black Panther.” Now that the movie is done, he’s back working on Childish Gambino’s next album.

Says Coogler: “Ludwig really set the table for the emotion that we were trying to get across, whether it was excitement or reflection or sadness.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Peaky Blinders Season 5

    Time-Jumping Season 5 of 'Peaky Blinders' Aims for a More Cinematic Look

    Cinematographer Si Bell was thrilled to learn he and director Anthony Byrne had been tapped to shoot the fifth season of BBC’s “Peaky Blinders,” but surprised to find out how free a hand executive producers Caryn Mandabach and Jamie Glazebrook were giving them to determine the scheme of their six-episode run. “I expected to meet the [...]

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content