Black Panther – Original Score Review – Music & Sound Studies – Reflections Article
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Arguably the most awe inspiring movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universes franchise to date, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) not only delivers amazing visuals, engaging action sequences and likeable characters; but it also gives us one of the most clever, inventive and entertaining superhero soundtracks we have ever had the pleasure of hearing on the big screen. Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson takes us on a emotional african journey whilst using juxtaposed compositional ideas to perfectly capture the multiplicity of the MCU’s modern utopian Wakanda and the heritage of the African nation itself.
This is article reflection 9 and here as I find myself in my spare time scouring the internet reading allot of peer reviewed soundtrack analysis and I thought I would crack the whip and give it a go myself.
“This is culturally something that’s never been done before” – Composer Ludwig Göransson
Review Score: 7.8
Now, I’m a big fan of Marvel films and the music that comes with them, but even analytically scanning and picking apart the score myself at home, the soundtracks have never really felt that daring or at least bold enough to have really grasped my attention until now. I look back over the 17 films in the franchise and hear the blend of heavy guitars and metal themes with orchestral in the original Iron Man composed by Ramin Djawadi, Alan Silvestri’s defining heroic thematic brass piece in Avengers Assemble, the ‘Awesome Mix Vol.1’ and Tyler Bates original theme for Guardians of the Galaxy, Danny Elfman developing the original Avengers theme in Age of Ultron and Christophe Beck’s defining score in Ant Man. And that’s about it. Marvel generally (and ‘Every Frame a Painting’ makes a very good point of this here: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vfqkvwW2fs&t>) sacrifice emotional richness for safe choices within the music. But I think Göransson really tests the limits of this in Black Panther and ends up with a really memorable score that stands out from the rest.
In the beginning of the movie, T’Challa, continuing where we left off from in Captain America: Civil War, is left feeling the weight of his deceased father’s legacy firmly upon his shoulders. In his vulnerability, Göransson calls upon African Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal to perform a killer outcall in the form of a cry that describes in his native tongue an elephant that had just died (a synonym for the fallen king), and that it was time for someone new to take over, but that you should not be too fast. The sadness emphasised within the score here then adds some gravity to the piece’s second section. The royal brass subtly compliments a wide shot of Wakanda, signifying the glory he will soon have rule over. As we come into Wakanda, Göransson’s spectacular use of the swelling horns and the percussive polyrhythms capture both the T’Challa (Black Panther) and Wakanda as one, performing with undeniable intimacy. The live talking drums performed by professional traditional african musicians, drum solos played by Senegalese percussionist Massamba Diop and haunting vocals by african vocalist Baaba Maal throughout the entirety of the soundtrack, brings the perfect accompaniment and sense of realism and deep cultural feeling to us the viewers and to the film.
A similar amount of care within the music was given to the Villain of the film, Killmonger. His theme instead however, showing his inner conflict and his overall drive towards his goal of ruling the kingdom of Wakanda. A spectral tambin flute performs with a african cry on his entry acting almost as an ancestral calling from the afterlife. In development, the music then changes hands to an electronic 808 beat with a hip-hop feel which adds that depth of African-American contrast to the Killmonger, helping to emphasise his isolation from the entirety of film and the world of utopian Wakanda Göransson has created before it. This works very effectively when Killmonger enters the Kingdom of Wakanda, his theme then acting as a disturber or disruptor of the peace almost immediately within the score. T’Challa’s royal horns and percussive elements are then reduced down to short struggling gasps when his foe defeats him in a merciless one-on-one fight, emphasising the scenes brutality.
On a more final and critical note of composition, despite Göransson’s emphasis on humanisation and the authentication of using African instrumentation, the score in it’s classical and orchestral parts delivers a truly magnificent sound. The unmissable thematic brass sections and the string phrasing early on in the film where T’Challa speaks with his father in the Ancestral Plane provides such an emotive and expressive divine of humility to the film. The music never feels like it’s constructing emotion but helps to share T’Challa’s respect and loyalty to his cause. A well composed superhero score by Ludwig Göransson, that only just falls shy of my admiration for Michael Giacchino’s The Incredibles by a small margin with plenty of nice surprises along the way.
Hope you enjoyed my short review, and I’ll leave you now with an interview from popular media company Genius (below), where Göransson explains his research and creative process that allowed him to capture this authenticity, of Wakanda and of the lead protagonist T’Challa (Black Panther).
Interview with Ludwig – The Making Of “Wakanda” With Ludwig Göransson | Presented By Marvel Studio’s Black Panther.
Track List – (Highlights*) 1. “Wakanda Origins” 1:44 2. “Royal Talon Fighter” 4:00 3. “Wakanda” 2:20* 4. “Warrior Falls” 4:06 5. “The Jabari” 1:08 6. “Waterfall Fight” 4:03* 7. “Ancestral Plane” 4:27* 8. “Killmonger” 2:55* 9. “Phambili” 2:31* 10. “Casino Brawl” 3:32 11. “Busan Car Chase” 2:49* 12. “Questioning Klaue” 3:32 13. “Outsider” 2:07 14. “Is This Wakanda?” 2:46* 15. “Killmonger’s Challenge” 5:07 16. “Killmonger vs. T’Challa” 3:30* 17. “Loyal to the Throne” 1:35 18. “Killmonger’s Dream” 3:15 19. “Burn It All” 3:24 20. “Entering Jabariland” 2:42 21. “Wake Up T’Challa” 6:08 22. “The Great Mound Battle” 3:48* 23. “Glory to Bast” 6:06 24. “The Jabari, Pt. II” 2:22 25. “A Kings Sunset” 4:28* 26. “A New Day” 1:47 27. “Spaceship Bugatti” 1:23 28. “United Nations / End Titles” 7:32* Total length: 1:35:07
Ludwig Göransson Composer Profile
Composer Biography: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/ludwig-g%C3%B6ransson-mn0001717667/biography
Composer Credits: Black Panther, Angie Tribeca, Everything Everything, True Memoirs of an International Assassin, New Girl, Atlanta, Inner Workings, Central Intelligence, Creed, Community, We’re the Millers.
Genius. (2018). The Making Of “Wakanda” With Ludwig Göransson | Presented By Marvel Studio’s Black Panther. [Online Video]. 16 February 2018. Available from: https://youtu.be/0XtCnGT0B20. [Accessed: 14 November 2017].