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Why does Black Panther Wakanda Forever sound so good?

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulNov 16, 2022 | 18:31

Why does Black Panther Wakanda Forever sound so good?

Cover illustration by Geetanjali Singh

With an Academy Award-winning crew in charge of the exquisite sound design and original score for the sequel to Black Panther, we take a look at the immersive aural landscapes of Wakanda Forever crafted by the inimitable Ludwig Goransson.

The final chapter in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda Forever is already off to a blockbuster opening weekend as expected, minting over ₹50 crore in just under three days since its premiere in India and over $330 million worldwide.

Though the film served as a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman and his legacy as the eponymous character and featured gorgeous production designs and incredible performances; part of the reason the film worked so well could be attributed to its fantastic sound design.

A mural of King T'Challa in the film pays tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman

Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson, having previously collaborated with director Ryan Coogler on the first Black Panther film, which bagged him an Oscar, returns for the sequel, designing a riveting original score for Wakanda Forever.

Goransson with his Oscar for Black Panther (2016)

Goransson’s pursuit for the sounds of Wakanda took him to various parts of Africa, spending time studying the instruments, rhythms and nuances of local musical traditions. The fruits of his journey were reflected in the unmistakable Talking Drum - the signature sound of King T’Challa and the Black Panther. 

Going into the sequel, Goransson was more than likely to have been faced with a number of potential problems. Building off from an already complete score, the incorporation of familiar musical ideas to pay tribute to prior characters and crafting recognisable and impactful leitmotifs for new characters.

How does Goransson accomplishes all three within the first 30 minutes of the film?

The film picks up in the wake of the sudden death of King T’Challa, leaving his mother, Queen Ramonda as the new ruler of Wakanda, leaving the small African kingdom ‘vulnerable’ in the eyes of the rest of the world, and ripe for the taking.

“We know what you whisper,” says Queen Ramonda, at a UN summit, alleging member states going at their Vibranium resources forcefully, now that the “King is dead”; only to reveal a squadron of Dora Milaje warriors rising menacingly from the shadows.

Here, Goransson builds off his previous leitmotif for the Dora Milaje, fleshing out the theme in scale and scope to reflect their increased significance. The familiar ‘Chuk-Chuk-Chuking’ attributed to the fearsome women soldiers of Wakanda are equal parts intimidating and playful, contributing to a gripping early sequence in the film.

Shortly after, the new Queen of Wakanda makes her way back to the discreet African nation that’s hidden away from the world thanks to the bleeding-edge Wakandan tech. “My Queen, we are home”, announces General Okoye, at the helm of the ship, as they cruise through the heart of a gorgeous African landscape, set to the backdrop of twilight skies.

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal’s beautiful, high-pitched cry has always been the Wakandan motif that reverberates across any background with sharp clarity. Here, Maal and Goransson rework the previously established theme for Wakanda, transforming it into something new and refined.

As a pair of Wakandan border officials prepare for the arrival of the Royal Fighter, they drum a percussive beat over what seems like some sort of water-panel-key to the gates (Wakandan tech never ceases to amaze), that correspondingly pulsate across the energy-field barrier, prying it open for the queen’s entry. Goransson’s orchestral symphony heightens the effect, a glorified reminder of the most powerful nation in the world.

And finally, the next segment takes us somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where a team of US Navy Seals and scientists are tasked with finding the much-sought-after mineral, Vibranium, which was believed only to be found in Wakanda. 

Things take a turn for the sinister as the deep-sea divers part of the expedition mysteriously go missing, and before we know it, the low hymn that had remained indistinguishably ambient so far has suddenly grown in intensity, volume and numbers. One by one, the soldiers aboard the ship fall prey to the hypnotic siren song of the Talokanese, plunging into the water in a trance, one after the other.

What could possibly mark one of the most ominous sequences in the MCU, Goransson takes a turn towards the menacing with the haunting hums from Mexican vocalists, Vivir Quintana & Mare Advertencia Lirika. Together, they make for the most telling introduction to the formidable forces of Talokan. 

Goransson's efforts at crafting the score for the film and collaborating with myriad artists from four separate continents is what he has described as his attempts “to create a complete, immersive sound and music experience for the viewer”, where songs and score are seamlessly intertwined in the film. 

From the world’s first taste of the film, with the Nigerian singer Tems’s touching rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry...

... to the latest addition to the original soundtrack album in Rihanna’s Lift Me Up that features in the end credits of the film...

...Goransson incorporates the same magical elements of wonder and revelation that Kendrick Lamar captured in his curated album for the first film.

From our first visit to the underwater city of Talokan, in Con La Brisa, set to Goranson's arpeggiated synth tunes...

... to Shuri ultimately taking up of the mantle of Black Panther - a dark synth rendition of her brother's Panther leitmotif in the title track Wakanda Forever...

... Goransson’s music is firmly in touch with the richness of both African and Mesoamerican cultures, while reinventing them with a touch of the future.

“It’s Mayan, it’s Aztec, it’s synthesisers, it’s regional Mexican music, it’s Afropop, it’s rap. It’s the whole plate!” 
- Ludwig Goransson in an interview with Apple Music

It shouldn't be too bold of an assumption to say that Goransson is coming for that second Oscar nomination this year (or perhaps even a second win).

Last updated: November 16, 2022 | 18:31
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