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Rihanna Anchors The Sound of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'. Meet the Man Who Led Its Global Collaboration
The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever composer takes us through the highlights of crafting the film's score and soundtrack, as well as where he was pulling inspiration from on the long-awaited sequel to the award-winning film.
On Friday, November 11, fans will reacquaint themselves with the look and feel of the MCU's most technologically advanced civilization, when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever finally arrives in theaters. The glossy and futuristic architecture, the rich and complicated history, and, of course, the tragic and sudden disappearance of its spiritual foundation, will all be on the sleeve of Wakanda's return to the screen.
But every bit as crucial to the full sensory experience of Wakanda will be the sound of the long-awaited sequel. In 2019, the original Black Panther film put up historic numbers both at the box office and in the awards circuit, where it was nominated for seven Oscars and eight Grammys, taking home the bulk of its bounty for a star-studded soundtrack executive-produced by Kendrick Lamar, and a triumphantly lush score composed by Ludwig Göransson. For the feverishly anticipated follow-up, Göransson is back, reenergized and pulling from an even wider pool of influence for his latest marquee Marvel project.
"What I was listening to before starting on this movie was these endless playlists with artists from Mexico, and playlists with artists from Nigeria," the 38-year-old composer shared on a call during the premiere run for Wakanda Forever. He speaks softly, but with passion, of the rigorous recording schedule for the film, logging thousands of hours across three continents, five countries, and six studios, with literally hundreds of vocalists and musicians in tow.
"We wanted to create a completely immersive world where we work with songs and score together," the producer said, underplaying the unconventional approach he and director, Ryan Coogler, chose for crafting the musical components of the film. In many cases, the score and soundtrack of a film are developed without much overlap. Separate crews and separate ideations for separate products with (slightly) separate purposes. But for Wakanda Forever, Göransson and his longtime collaborator worked piecemeal off just the script alone, to create a fluid and connective soundscape as the film was shooting for much of the recording process. Bocking at traditional composition and arrangement techniques, the creative brain trust behind the film opted for a tandem approach with each sonic component feeding the other, rather than assembling the score and soundtrack as entirely detached projects.
"I'm incorporating elements from the score in the songs and elements from the songs in the score," Göransson explained of the holistic demeanor behind the sonics of Wakanda Forever. And he's arguably the only man for the job.
Göransson's tenure in the music departments of major film studios and the more intimate recording suites of pop stars makes him a uniquely qualified candidate. Over the last decade or so, the producer's star has been nothing short of ascendant. In 2009, the producer made his name (and solidified a potent partnership with then-rising comedic talent Donald Glover) as the composer for the cult sitcom Community. He then aided Glover's transformation from the show's slapstick specialist to the deeply conceptual rapper and songwriter now known as Childish Gambino, producing all three of Glover's studio albums and his politically-edged standalone single "This Is America," which took home four Grammys in 2019 including "Record of The Year" and "Song of The Year." Since then, Göransson has worked with Haim, Adele, Justin Timberlake, Chance The Rapper, Moses Sumney, Vampire Weekend, and Travis Scott (among others). You might have also caught him in the composer section of the credits for Fruitvale Station, Creed, Tenet, Venom and, more recently, the Star Wars spinoffs The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.
But the producer's ability to isolate and enhance the respective strengths of his collaborators has made him an invaluable asset on every team he's joined. On the Wakanda Forever score, Göransson leads an absolutely colossal cast of musicians, including over 40 vocalists, two orchestras, and two choirs. The result is a warm, verdant and welcoming musical treatment that is as celebratory as it is sobering. One could contest the guest list for the film's soundtrack matches the weight of the original. Anchored by a crushing ballad from Rihanna, the features on the Wakanda Forever soundtrack range from hyphy titan E-40 and Afrobeats powerhouse Burna Boy to drum-and-bass revivalist Pink Panthress and electric Mexican artists like Aleman and Blue Rojo.
For Göransson, much like the rest of the film's returning crew, reckoning with loss is the cost of stepping back into the hidden kingdom of Wakanda. Two years after the film began development, it suffered the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, who passed in 2020 after a silent bout with colon cancer at the age of 43. Göransson reuniting with the family of fierce and dedicated creatives that helped center Boseman in the MCU is an act of solemn duty in now honoring the late actor. It's a sense of obligation shared among Boseman's colleagues, who now span an even wider distance on the sonic map. And Göransson is a pillar in the apparatus cutting that distance.
"People from all different types of cultures and different backgrounds coming together and writing for the same project and creating something unique. That feels very connected," he said.