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  • Writer's pictureSalil Bhayani

About Black Panther

The first time I watched Black Panther on the big screen, I couldn’t help but notice that among many stereotypes that the film broke, the background score was one of the more crucial ones. It made me delighted to watch a film (and what’s more, a Marvel film at that) that made me (and many others) react to it very differently because of the score alone.

There are two major reasons that made the score for Black Panther a unique experience for me. The first one was that it was a great refresher from what a Marvel movie score would sound like. That in itself is a reason enough. How many times do you go to a superhero movie (emphasis on Marvel) and think about your expectations from the score just because of its departure from the norm in such an exquisite manner? The answer is, one time. Black Panther was that time.

I thought Ludwig Göransson’s score was special not only because of the seamless integration that he was able to achieve, of authentic African music with an epic Hollywood blockbuster score, but his craftsmanship in carefully retaining the fiber of a Marvel score while doing it. Not only that, the villain/killmonger theme rooted in hip hop with orchestral elements blended beautifully with Kendrick Lamar’s music for the film. I am fairly certain that could not have been an easy thing to pull off.

The elements that are unique to the score are plenty, and in observing those, we cannot overlook the sophistication with which he executes the more traditional elements of the symphonic world, such as the emotive ancestor theme, and the recurrence of it when the “Killmonger” is finally defeated. The music portrays the common ancestral connection between T’Challa and N’Jadaka.

The second reason why the score spoke deeply to me personally is because of the prominent usage of African percussion and flute. The Wakanda theme sung by Baaba Maal combined with the talking drum gave me chills. The theme builds slowly, starting with vocals and upper strings. Drums and lower strings come in shortly after, with a crescendo leading into what I like to call as the “Wakanda groove” played incrementally by a group of talking drums. To this groove is added the second part of the theme that is played by the trumpets. This beautifully merges into a combination of the Wakanda groove and the symphonic universe of Marvel.

There is something very organic and unique about the oral tradition through which African music has descended from the ancestors that is very similar to Indian music. As someone who has spent almost my entire life from very early childhood learning and observing Indian music, and just being a part of that culture, I have always felt a connection to African music that is almost impossible to articulate. That connection also drew me to study some bit of African music during my time at Berklee College of Music.

There is so much depth to music in general, and while I constantly strive to achieve depth in learning and producing music for mainstream media, something like Black Panther is a beautiful reminder for someone like me to look back and cultivate my cultural roots as I acknowledge with sheer gratitude the immensely rich heritage I am a beneficiary of.

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