Interview: Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson on bringing Wakanda to life with talking drums

Last month, I had the chance to sit down with Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson while he was in his LA based studio, working on a new Childish Gambino record. We’ve since heard quite a bit about this new release thanks to the music video for “This is America” going viral.

It’s been a big year for Göransson, releasing Black Panther and walking away with a Grammy for his work with Gambino on his record Awaken, My Love!. “Yeah, and there’s no stop (in sight),” he said. “I’m sitting in the studio working with Childish Gambino on his next project… and I just got started on the Venom (motion picture score) a few weeks ago. The movie comes out in October, so I still have a couple of months to finish that.”

But today we were here to look back at his work on Black Panther, which hits digital release this week (despite, impressively, still being in cinemas), and will have its home DVD and Blu-Ray release at the end of the month. So how did he come to be involved in the project?

“We had just finished Creed, and Ryan (Coogler, the Director) was staying at my place and he was saying he was going into Marvel to take a meeting about the movie Black Panther, and I was like, that’s super exciting. and then a week later, he was calling me to say he was going to sign up to do the movie.”

Indeed, Ludwig has been the go-to composer for Coogler, having worked with the Director on the Soundtracks for Fruitvale Station and Creed. But a Marvel film is another beast entirely. What were his immediate thoughts after that phone call?

“I was ecstatic,” said Göransson, “for any film composer, there’s always a dream to sometime in their career be able to write a super hero theme… being able to write music for a super hero character is something that musically is on every composer’s top three list.”

So what were his first thoughts for the score? “Ryan sent me a really early version of the script, and after reading that, we had a conversation about travelling to research African music, to try and have as much of an influence of it on the score as possible.”

And what did he learn once he travelled to Africa? “I discovered and came to understand that their music, every traditional rhythm… every song or melody that was created hundreds of years ago… they were written for specific reasons. A specific ceremony, a ritual. They all have a meaning to it. When I made that revelation, I had to ask myself, how am I going to be able to use it for the right scenes in the movie?”

Ceremony and ritual plays a big part in the film, so this seemed to be the sort of revelation that served his approach justice. “So if there’s a challenge in the film, like the waterfall flight, I can use a rhythm that was created specifically for a challenge between an older and a younger man.”

Göransson played around with quite a lot of African instruments to achieve this, “I always had a fascination with a talking drum. I’d heard about the instrument, but I never recorded it, or met a professional player of it. I knew that was an instrument I was drawn to, and I had the opportunity to meet an amazing talking drum player, who was born into a family of players, whose history with the instrument dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. So being able to work with him, and putting together a five piece talking drum ensemble and really utilising that instrument and putting it at the forefront of the score… that was something that I was extremely excited about.”

Much has been talked about the fact an early cut of the film was four hours long, so does that mean there’s some parts of the score we haven’t gotten to hear? Maybe, but Göransson doesn’t seem to mind, “I was very happy with the final cut. What we  did cut out, it just made the film better. So there’s no disappointment for me.”

Be it Childish Gambino or Venom, how does he take what he’s done here into his next project? “Every experience on every project, makes you grow and learn, having working on Black Panther and scored two hours of music for Ryan’s film, it feels like it made me a better musician. And made me a better person.”

Black Panther is available on digital May 16th and on Blu-Ray May 30th. In the meantime, you can still catch the film in cinemas.

Reach more of our interview with Ludwig HERE, as we talk about Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar.