'Black Panther' Composer Scored a 4-Hour Cut of the Movie

Director Ryan Coogler pushed Ludwig Goransson to use as many African sounds as possible, which led him to a South African library and its "collection of about 500 different instruments that don’t really exist anymore."
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images (Goransson); Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
'Black Panther' (Inset: Ludwig Goransson)

Ludwig Goransson helped Black Panther roar its way to the big screen, but the Swedish composer is well aware he might not seem like the obvious choice to tackle a film that draws so heavily upon African culture.

Black Panther marks the third collaboration for Goransson, director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan following their critically acclaimed indie Fruitvale Station and the 2015 hit Creed. Black Panther marks their most ambitious team-up yet, and the film has resonated with audiences worldwide, already crossing $500 million globally.

But before all the accolades, the composer felt a lot of pressure after Coogler invited him to join the project.

"I was incredibly excited as it was a dream of mine to score a superhero movie," Goransson told Heat Vision by phone during a break from producing the new Childish Gambino album with Donald Glover. "I also felt incredible pressure to pay homage to African culture and its traditional music. It’s not lost on me that I’m a Swedish guy from one of the coldest countries in the world."

Goransson grew up in Sweden, where he studied music from an early age and first stepped foot in the United States in 2007, when he met Coogler at USC. He spent months researching African tribal music for Black Panther, and praised generations of Africans for their dedication in maintaining their musical heritage.

“African tribes have different music for hundreds of different ceremonies created over 700 years ago. These specific rhythms have survived due to bloodline traditions. They have individuals known as Griots, which means storyteller," he said. "It’s a profession that you’re born into… a family of musicians. Which gives the music so much more meaning.”

Coogler pushed Goransson to use as many African sounds as possible in the score. Goransson was able to find instruments that had never been heard in a blockbuster movie like this one.

“I traveled to a library in South Africa called ILAM [International Library of African Music], which has a collection of about 500 different instruments that don’t really exist anymore. To be able to go there, record the instruments and use them in the movie… it was an incredible opportunity," he said.

Goransson reflected on his growing relationship with both Coogler and Jordan over their three films together. Their sense of trust and camaraderie has led to some incredible behind-the-scenes moments, which in turn strengthened the final product.

“Having a great relationship with Ryan means I’m able to start on the film’s score very early. I went to West Africa and South Africa before they started shooting, just to do research," he said. "When I came up with Killmonger’s theme, I hired a great fula player to record it. I was able to send all those recordings to Michael B., which helped him prepare for the role," he said.

Coogler works without a temp score, meaning that Goransson has no point of reference when he’s writing the film’s music. (Many filmmakers begin editing a movie with temporary music in place and remove it later — a practice composers largely despise.) Goransson loves this freedom, which is rare in the blockbuster studio system.

“I remember the first director’s cut was four hours long, but I already had a lot of material written and recorded. So, I actually scored the four-hour cut of the film. Which is really great.”

Goransson stepped away from the tribal drumming and utilized strings to highlight the strong emotions surrounding T’Challa’s first visit to the valley of the dead. The new king sees his father for the first time since his death in Captain America Civil War.

“When I read the dialogue between T’Challa and his father, it was so emotional to me. I wanted to bring that out in the instrumentation. A tiny piece of that theme can be heard in Killmonger’s theme. It’s all related in a way, just as they are related by blood," said the composer.

Goransson is open to more superhero work outside the Black Panther series. He also hopes to hear his Wakanda cues in Avengers: Infinity War.

“I would love to do more superhero work, as a young film composer that is one of the things you dream of… superhero themes really resonate with audiences. I don’t know what Alan [Silvestri] is doing musically with the Black Panther and Wakanda sequences in Infinity War, but I hope the character has a big presence in the movie and they use his theme," he said.