Ludwig Göransson has become a very busy composer in both movie and TV in recent years, from his early days scoring series like Community, Happy Endings, and New Girl, to his recent iconic work on The Mandalorian, along with projects like Tenet, Turning Red, and more.
Now though, Göransson is revisiting another world he made a big musical stamp on with the score for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, following his work on the first Black Panther movie in 2018, which won him an Academy Award. Wakanda Forever marks the composer’s latest collaboration with director Ryan Coogler, his USC classmate, who has had Göransson score all of his films, including Fruitvale Station and Creed.
Wakanda Forever is of course a very anticipated and notable film, having to carry the weight of the loss of Black Panther’s leading man, Chadwick Boseman, which informs the storyline. Göransson spoke to Fandom about creating the music for a sequel to a movie where much of what he’d written the first time had accompanied an actor and character who is unfortunately no longer with us, along with coming up with themes for the notable introduction of Namor, and more.
AN UNUSUAL SEQUEL
With a superhero sequel, it’s expected that you’ll hear the leading themes written for the title character’s previous adventure once again, especially if the same composer is returning. And to be sure, Wakanda Forever does bring back themes Göransson wrote for the 2018 film, but perhaps not as much as you might expect and tied to very specific, impactful moments.
As Göransson explained, he had to think about Wakanda Forever quite differently than he might otherwise, given the tragic loss of Boseman and his absence from the film. Said the composer, “I couldn’t approach this like any sequel. With the unfortunate passing of Chadwick, so numerous sounds and so numerous instruments and themes were connected to him in the first movie. I had to think about, for the sequel, how would we even do that? Because there’s so much weight to it. You hear one hit on the talking drum and you immediately begin feeling something. It’s such a powerful way of conveying emotions.”
Yes, the music we connect to Boseman’s performance as T’Challa does return in Wakanda Forever, but as Göransson put it, “We had to be very, very careful with how we used the music from the first movie, and just create sure that it’s done exactly the right way, when it makes you feel the right things.”
MUSIC FOR NAMOR
Wakanda Forever’s intimidating new antagonist is Namor, the classic Marvel Comics character making his long-awaited live-action debut.
For the film, Namor (played by Tenoch Huerta) has been given a new backstory, coming from the underwater city of Talokan – rather than Atlantis, like in the comics – and origins that go back to the Mayans.
Regarding his musical approach to Namor, Göransson explained, “Obviously, my first idea, from him being inspired by Mayan culture, was to see what Mayan music sounds like. And I quickly realized that music is gone, it was forcibly erased. We don’t know exactly how it sounded. So that’s when I decided to go to Mexico. I went to Mexico City first, which is where Tenoch is from, and I started recording and working with music archaeologists that are experts in this field of Mayan music and Mayan instruments. They’ve been doing a lot of research in trying to reimagine what that Mayan music would have sounded like, and recorded a bunch of different instruments.”
Göransson said those instruments included, “Seashells, tortoise shells that you hit on with sticks… There’s all these different types of shakers that sound like snakes, or birds flying… There are these different types of clay flutes. One of them is called a Death Whistle, which makes this amazing scream that I’ve never heard before. And I will say that it’s so powerful that you can’t really be in the same room as someone playing it, but that fit in immediately. It made me think of Namor going into battle and when he’s doing some of his powerful action moves. And so this whole world started to be kind of reimagined. It was such a unique sound to me, and I was so excited to have that very different and unique sound for Talokan and for Namor in contrast to the sound we had for Wakanda.”
Without T’Challa, Wakanda Forever turns to the terrific supporting cast from the first movie to take center stage here in a big way, which Göransson said led to updated – or in some cases, completely different – themes for them.
One place where he expanded on what he’d done before was with the Dora Milaje theme, noting, “Okoye has a big role and there’s a lot of time with her and she’s doing a lot of crazy action stuff and stunts and a lot of fighting on her side. We had, in the first movie, established these powerful women chanting theme for her that we really got to play with in this movie. Every time you hear that sound, it immediately makes you amped, it’s such an aggressive sound.”
Naturally, Wakanda Forever spends a lot of time showing the impact of T’Challa’s loss on his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). That latter character’s new demeanor, in the wake of losing her bother, meant Göransson had to overhaul the musical take he’d formerly had for her.
“Shuri’s theme in movie is something completely different from the first one. In the first one, the theme that she had was playful, it was younger, it was funny. She’s grown into a very different woman in this movie. She’s going through some very difficult emotions and the music had to portray that. So what we did with her theme, the melody that I wrote for her theme, and in the story arc, is that in the beginning, the melody is heard on solo voice first. It’s sung by this amazing singer, Jorja Smith. I recorded her in London, and she’s singing this melody with big intervals. It’s a difficult melody to sing and it’s very interesting to hear it in the vocals, because it almost sounds like an instrument.”
Göransson explained, “As the story moves on, and Shuri’s story arc moves on, and you can see her becoming more angry and then making that last decision on what type of person she is going to become, the theme evolves into something completely different.” He said he used, “A distortive synthesizer, playing the same melody in a very aggressive, abrasive way that’s almost like a punch in your face.”
RYAN & LUDWIG
As memorable as Göransson’s music is and how quickly it can be recognized – such as in a tiny moment in the She-Hulk season finale as an audio gag– Göransson is quick to share kudos with Coogler, saying, “I think it just all comes down to the genius of Ryan as a filmmaker. He’s able to create these characters and work with the themes and create something that has these big, strong impressions on people.”
When it comes to individuals immediately thinking of the Black Panther characters hearing just a snippet of the music, Göransson said the process he and Coogler have allows this connection to begin almost from the start, noting, “I’m getting involved at such an early stage. Just right off from the script, I begin writing and begin recording. For me, it’s all about creating unique sound worlds, creating something new from new DNA, and construction it from the ground up with sounds that I haven’t heard or used before. I think when you hear those sounds in the beginning, iit can be a little jarring. It’s like, ‘Oh, what is this? This sounds a little strange. I’m not sure I like this.’ But then when you have the competence of the characters and the storyline to support it, it all just becomes extremely exciting.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing.