Home > Reviews > BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER – Ludwig Göransson


November 15, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton


The death of actor Chadwick Boseman in August 2020 resulted in an outpouring of grief and affection from the entire Hollywood community, but also necessitated wholesale changes to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the planned sequel to the 2018 blockbuster Marvel superhero film Black Panther, which was already in pre-production at the time of Boseman’s death. With the film’s lead gone, director Ryan Coogler, along with co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, re-fashioned the film to be not only a fun and interesting superhero action film, but also a surprisingly poignant meditation on death, grief, and legacy; despite not being there in person, Boseman’s presence weighs heavy on the film, giving it a depth and meaning that most films of this type do not contain. In terms of plot, Wakanda Forever sees Shuri, the younger sister of King T’Challa, having to step up and be a leader in her own right when her country comes under attack from a mysterious race of people seemingly descended from ancient Mayans, and who have a powerful leader of their own. The film has a groundbreaking headline cast made up almost entirely of black women – Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Angela Bassett – with Winston Duke, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in key supporting roles.

One of the many awards that the original Black Panther won was the Oscar for Best Original Score, and so of course composer Ludwig Göransson has returned to score the sequel. One of the things I have always admired about Göransson is his unconventionality; the original Black Panther score was steeped in painstakingly researched pan-African folk music blended with a large western orchestra, and even in some of his other recent scores (The Mandalorian, Tenet, Turning Red) he often travels down unexpected roads to give his scores a different sound. Wakanda Forever is very much the same; it still uses a large western orchestra, again blended with traditional African percussion and vocals, but this time the electronic elements of the score are much more prominent, and – perhaps most interestingly of all – there is a great deal of music from the ancient Mayan culture of Mexico.

There isn’t much information out there about the kind of music the Mayans made. Certain musical instruments from their time exist, but there is no written sheet music indicating what sort of melodies they played, so in order to musically represent Talokan – the undersea kingdom ruled by the film’s primary antagonist Prince Namor, and which is based on the culture of the ancient Mayans – Göransson essentially had to engage in a great deal of educated guess work. He worked with musical archaeologists and ethnomusicologists with knowledge of Mayan culture, and spent time in Mexico working with indigenous musicians. He eventually decided to incorporate numerous woodwind and percussion items into the score, ranging from clay flutes to turtle shells, the iconic ‘death whistle,’ and something called a ‘flute of truth,’ which offers a high-pitched piercing wail.

To depict the African culture of Wakanda, Göransson reunited with his collaborators from the first film, Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and percussionist Massamba Diop, while also emphasizing the kora, a West African stringed instrument that sounds like a cross between a guitar and a harp, and which became a key element of the score in terms of depicting the sadness and mourning the country feels over T’Challa’s death. Other vocals in the score were provided by Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems, and Mexican singer Foudeqush, alongside a 40-voice choir in London and 20-voice choir in Los Angeles that specializes in Mesoamerican music.

Meanwhile, the increased emphasis on electronics is specifically related to the characters of Shuri and Riri Williams, the two technological geniuses at the heart of the story, who are much more attached to contemporary urban hip-hop and R&B than they are the classical sounds of their heritage; this is something that Göransson also excels at, considering his Grammy-winning work with hip-hop artist Childish Gambino.

However, some fans of the original Black Panther will be disappointed to learn that a lot of the first score’s main thematic ideas – notably the theme for T’Challa, the theme for Killmonger, the ‘Ancestral Plane’ music, and the main Wakanda fanfare – are either entirely absent from Wakanda Forever, or play an extremely limited role. Conceptually, of course, this makes perfect sense: T’Challa is dead, Killmonger is dead, the Ancestral Plane appears in just one scene of note, and with nobody embodying the Black Panther character for the majority of the film, the upbeat and heroic music associated with it has no reason to appear. This is, of course, always a problem when leitmotifs are affected by narrative flow and character development – if the thing your music is depicting is not there, then the music can’t play either – and it’s actually to Göransson’s credit that he sticks to his guns and maintains thematic consistency, when a lot of composers wouldn’t do that. But, as I said, this also means that anyone who came to Wakanda Forever expecting to hear new versions of that music in particular will likely come away frustrated.

In the end, much of the score ends up being an exploration of traditional African music, traditional Mayan music, and contemporary electronica, with the orchestra only really raising its voice during the action scenes and the moments of more introspective reflection.

The opening cue “Nyana Wam,” which underscores the emotional scene of T’Challa’s funeral, and also acts as something of a goodbye to Chadwick Boseman himself, begins as a strident, piercing African tribal lament performed with intensity by Baaba Maal and a host of vocalists and percussionists, before switching to a solemn, emotional piece for orchestra and choir that is quite moving. Cues like “Welcome Home” take a similar approach, while also offering some strident orchestral textures that are very satisfying, as they often accompany superb establishing shots of the Wakandan landscape and its gleaming capital city.

The iconic ‘tuk tuk tuk’ war cry for the Dora Milaje elite Wakandan royal guards plays all through the vibrant “We Know What You Whisper,” the film version of the song “They Want It, But No” which plays underneath the Boston car chase sequence, and in many of the score’s conclusive action scenes, usually as a recurring leitmotif for when Okoye, Ayo, or another member of the Dora Milaje does something especially heroic.

The music for the Talokan culture first appears in the haunting “Sirens,” which initially features a vocal performance by Vivir Quintana and Mare Advertencia Lirika inspired by the old folk tales of unwary sailors being lured to their doom by voices from the sea, and then later blends deep, rumbling throat-singers with percussion items and whistles drawn from Mayan culture; it’s unconventional, challenging stuff, but fascinating in context, and wholly authentic. One thing I like about these cues especially is the gasping/breathing sound that Göransson sometimes uses, as this relates directly to the idea that the Talokan people have evolved to extract oxygen from water, rather than air, and struggle to breathe on dry land.

Many of these ideas are explored later in cues like “Namor,” the film version of the song “Árboles Bajo El Mar,” “Lost to the Depths,” the energetic “Yucatán,” and the moodily intense “Let Us Burn It Together,” which adds some lyrical kora licks to the mix. From out of this comes a recurring motif for Prince Namor himself, which builds to a menacing and aggressive crescendo in the howling, guttural “Namor’s Throne,” and is later embedded into the action music when he is personally fighting against the Wakandan forces, and later against Shuri one-on-one. It’s also worth mentioning the film version of the song “Con La Brisa” performed by Mexican vocalist Paola Maldonado, aka Foudeqush, which plays under the scene where Namor shows Shuri his nation’s beautiful undersea capital; the sound is dreamy, magical, and very atmospheric in context.

For the moments of familial drama and emotional poignancy Göransson uses the soothing tones of vocalist Jorja Smith, often in conjunction with slow string chords and the expressive kora; cues like “He Wasn’t There” and especially the emotionally-wrought “Mama” are excellent examples of this. “Who Did You See” is the first time the more electronically enhanced ideas for Shuri come to the fore, combining with the Mayan whistles and becoming raggedly intense as it slowly builds to a crescendo of bitterness and anger; this finally culminates in the rousing “Wakanda Forever,” which uses her big, vivid electronic chords backed by orchestral textures and – finally – the first performance of the main Black Panther/Wakanda theme from the first score, as she embraces her heritage and takes up the mantle of her brother to save her people. Upon hearing this new arrangement, I understand why Göransson had to change it – Shuri and T’Challa are different people, after all – but I have to admit that the traditionalist in me does miss the conventionally heroic fully-orchestral version from the first film.

The first of the score’s main action sequences is “Imperius Rex,” which underscores Namor’s attack on the Wakandan capital. Here, Göransson brings together the African percussion and vocals with the Mayan percussion and vocals in the same cue for the first time, having them clash amid a series of vibrant orchestral passages. It’s creative, exciting stuff, really impressive on a conceptual level – I especially loved hearing the Talokan ‘sirens’ and the Dora Milaje ‘tuk-tuks’ facing off in a battle of vocal superiority.

The second big action sequence is the one-two punch of “Yibambe!” and “Sink the Ship,” which underscores the set piece where the Wakandans and the Talokans face off on board a huge battleship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The music here is similar to the first action set piece – big orchestra, African percussion and vocals, Mayan percussion and vocals, prominent statements of Namor’s motif and the Dora Milaje motif – but the electronic textures for Shuri have much more prominence in the mix this time round, reflecting her new status as the leader of her people. Occasionally Göransson seems to have used what sound like sampled whale songs or dolphin noises, likely as a representation of the fact that that the Talokans use sea creatures in the same way that ‘normal’ humans use horses or elephants as battle steeds. I also noticed some similarity between the Talokan throat singers used in these cues and the music that Hans Zimmer wrote for the Sardaukar warriors in his score for Dune – it has that same alien, imposing, startling effect and is very effective in context.

Eventually Namor and Shuri face off one-on-one on an isolated beach, and the cues “It Could Have Been Different” and “Vengeance Has Consumed Us” underscore their fight with a great deal of dramatic power; Shuri’s electronics are again front-and-center of the mix, and it all climaxes with a soaring, beautiful elegy for strings and chorus that recognizes Shuri’s final acknowledgement of T’Challa’s Black Panther legacy, and his inherent nobility, even when his life was on the line. The way it morphs into the score’s one, massive, heroic, anthemic statement of the Black Panther theme at the end of the second cue re-affirms Shuri’s new identity as Wakanda’s leader.

The score ends with a final visit to the Talokan music in “Alliance,” ominously setting up their potential appearance in future films, while the conclusive “T’Challa” is soft, tender, and hopeful, a kora flurry, gentle strings, and a burst of the Black Panther theme, as Shuri finally honors her brother with a ritual burning of her funeral garb, and it is revealed that T’Challa and Nakia had a secret son – also called T’Challa – who is being groomed to be Wakanda’s future leader.

Wakanda Forever is a fascinating score, and if you can get yourself into the right mindset to appreciate the fact that a lot of the music in it is essentially a modern reimagining of tribal music from two ancient cultures on different sides of the Atlantic, then you’re in for a treat. The first half of the score is often quite abstract, but it kicks into high gear during its second half, with some impressive large-scale action and clever interplay between the different cultural musical styles.

It’s worth noting that the blend of ancient cultures and modern music also extends to the film’s song soundtrack; of the 16 songs in the film, Göransson co-wrote and produced 13 of them, including Rihanna’s rousing anthem “Lift Me Up” – a shoo-in for a Best Song nomination – and the fascinating Mayan-language rap song “Laayli’ kuxa’ano’one” by ADN Maya Colectivo with Pat Boy, Yaalen K’uj, and All Mayan Winik, both of which are heard during the end credits.

Having said that, the lack of familiar thematic content from the first Black Panther film is sure to disappoint some listeners; the statements of the main theme during the final moments, held back until Shuri fully becomes the character, are appropriate in context, but may not offer enough of a high for those who fell in love with it first time round. As such, overall, Wakanda Forever is probably a little step down from the original. The creativity, authenticity, and attention to detail shown by Ludwig Göransson and his team is enormously impressive, but by striving to show respect to these cultures, he perhaps made his final product slightly less accessible for traditional superhero score fans.

Buy the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Nyana Wam (4:00)
  • We Know What You Whisper (2:36)
  • Sirens (3:57)
  • Welcome Home (2:11)
  • Lift Me Up – Score Version (written by Robyn Fenty, Temilade Openiyi, Ryan Coogler, and Ludwig Göransson, performed by Joselyn Coogler) (1:09)
  • He Wasn’t There (1:22)
  • Namor (3:42)
  • They Want It, But No – Film Version (written by Tobe Nwigwe and Ludwig Göransson, performed by Tobe Nwigwe and Fat Nwigwe) (4:14)
  • Árboles Bajo El Mar – Film Version (written by Alejandro Nestor Mendes Rojas, Vivir Quintana, Mare Advertencia, and Ludwig Göransson, performed by Vivir Quintana and Mare Advertencia Lirika (6:30)
  • Lost to the Depths (1:30)
  • Con La Brisa – Film Version (written by Angelica Paola Maldonado Flores and Ludwig Göransson, performed by Foudeqush) (2:41)
  • Yucatán (1:42)
  • Let Us Burn It Together (3:41)
  • This Will Mean War (2:09)
  • Namor’s Throne (2:16)
  • Imperius Rex (7:41)
  • Mama (4:43)
  • Who Did You See? (3:13)
  • Wakanda Forever (2:35)
  • Blood for Blood (1:28)
  • Yibambe! (7:25)
  • Sink the Ship (3:52)
  • It Could Have Been Different (1:54)
  • Vengeance Has Consumed Us (4:05)
  • Alliance (1:47)
  • T’Challa (1:26)

Running Time: 83 minutes 34 seconds

Hollywood Records/Marvel Music (2022)

Music composed by Ludwig Göransson. Conducted by Anthony Parnther and James Shearman. Orchestrations by Thomas Kotcheff. Ethnic music consultants Seni Saraki and Camilo Lara. Featured musical soloists Massamba Diop, Magatte Sow, Alex Rojas, Ramiro Ramirez Duarte, Amadou Fall and Tunde Jegede. Special vocal performances by Baaba Maal, Busiswa Goulu, Vivir Quintana, Mare Advertencia Lirika, Jorja Smith, Mono Blanco, Terius Gesteelde-Diamant, James Fauntleroy and Temilade ‘Tems’ Openiyi. Recorded and mixed by Chris Fogel. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Ludwig Göransson .

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: