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Black Panther is a movie that places a lot of its groundbreaking foundations on its unique and earnest cultural heart. It’s a movie that works largely because of the evident time and effort put into all the diverse aspects of its visuals and score. Wakanda not only looks so alive, but it sounds like what it is: a land rich with culture, music, and history. And we think one of the largest contributing factors to this world building is its lush score.
If you find yourself nodding along to the sentiments above, then we’ve got excellent news for you! The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is bringing the astonishing music from 2018’s Black Panther to the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall from the 27th-29th of July. That’s three nights where you can immerse yourself in the Oscar-winning visuals and score of Black Panther, composed by Ludwig Göranss.
You can sit back and watch the entirety of Black Panther while the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Parnther with iconic percussion by Massamba Diop (a featured performer from the original soundtrack), takes you on a journey.
This is an experience you won’t get in your living room, or even a cinema, because hearing the power of a score live as you relive this exciting movie is unparalleled. The Orchestra will be joined live on stage by Massamba Diop, one the most renowned masters of the Senegalese tama, a talking drum heavily featured in the original score.
Don’t miss out on this incredible live-to-film experience with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, book tickets now.
But what makes the Black Panther score so special?
A memorable score is a unique score
Black Panther, like most movies, often relies on its carefully composed score to swell your emotions in a range of directions. But its effectiveness doesn’t end there. What Ludwig Göranss tried and succeeded in doing was telling a story through music far beyond what we see on screen.
As well as the traditional Hollywood score performed by an orchestra, throughout Black Panther we hear from a range of traditional instruments all over Africa, a testament to the fact that Göranss has clearly done his research. In conversation with Genius, he explained that the only way to get such a special score right was to undertake his research with careful thought.
“The only way I can write music that fits these colours, images, and stories I’m reading is to go to Africa and do research,” he said.
So Göranss travelled to West Africa and went along on tour with famed Senegalese singer Baaba Maal to help inspire the Black Panther score. Baaba Maal’s beautiful voice can be heard in the goosebump-inducing opening of the song Wakanda. The score relies heavily on traditional influence as well as a range of cultural input from various countries in Africa to form its thesis.
What makes the Black Panther score so unique and memorable is that it strays from the expected nature of orchestral music and delves into cultural sounds that are new and unique to many viewers. For example, we can remember and love the theme and chant of the Dora Milaje because we haven’t heard anything like it before.
Iconic character themes
Black Panther is full of themes that completely encompass and summarise each character. T’Challa is characterised as a royal hero through the fanfare in his theme, and this is also balanced by talking drums that demonstrate his strong roots in Wakanda. Killmonger’s theme sways back and forth between a wild outcrying traditional Fula flute and collected trap/hip hop beats that effortlessly represent his connection to America.
When forming character themes, Göranss has even subtly worked character names into their musical themes. In the same interview with Genuis, he outlined how the talking drum heard throughout T’Challa’s theme in the song Wakanda is rhythmically supposed to sound like his name.
“The last final element for the talking drum is T’Challa’s name… this is the basic beat for T’Challa’s theme. Any time he comes into the room you hear the talking drum rhythm… [and] you hear the solo rhythm saying his name,” he said.
This is also true for Killmonger’s theme (our favourite piece in the entire score!). We hear a haunting Fula flute played by Amadou Ba, in which both the sound of the flute and his voice screaming ‘Killmonger!’ are used to form the desired chaos of Killmonger’s theme. In an interview with SoundWorks Collection, we hear from Göranss about how this haunting sound was used in the score.
“When he came to the studio and I started recording with him he started playing, and screaming with the flute using his voice. I’ve never heard that type of sound before.”
Wakanda is, of course, fictional at the end of the day. So, creating music from a culture that is purely based on fiction complicates the influences involved in forming an accurate score. How do you pick what elements of the modern and futuristic aspects of Black Panther should be reflected and when tradition and culture should be foregrounded? In an interview with Rolling Stone, Göransson explained this.
“It was important that the sound and the music represented Wakanda in a way where you know, Wakanda is obviously a fictional country, but it was important that it’s a country that was never colonised,” Göransson said.
“But it’s also a country that has the most technology in the world. So how do you find the balance between the tradition and future and Afrofuturism and how do you do that in the music?”
And Göransson was able to do just that by combining a range of elements that are included in the overall score. Traditional instruments and singing, modern trap beats, royal fanfare, and orchestral music all form the Black Panther soundtrack. You can especially hear this in tracks like Spaceship Bugatti which takes inspiration from a range of modernised futuristic elements, and cultural instruments like the popular talking drum.
All of these elements work together seamlessly, as though talking to one another in a delightful amalgamation.
And you can hear the world-class musicians of the Sydney Symphony bring it all to life, live on stage at the Sydney Opera House in July.
Sydney Symphony Presents Black Panther in Concert, 27-29 July at Sydney Opera House.