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Photo: Emil Wesolowski

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Hollywood’s new music man – Meet: Ludwig Göransson

Composer Ludwig Göransson’s work on the music for the blockbuster movie Black Panther has taken him on a journey from African music studios to the top of Hollywood.

The sun is shining over a lemonade-yellow 1950’s functionalist house in the hills of northern Los Angeles as the wind rustles in the palm trees. Swedish composer and producer Ludwig Göransson is sitting next to the turquoise swimming pool at the back of the house, curled up on a couch. He has shoulder-length hair, reminiscent of a rock musician, and a piercing gaze.

Who he is, and what he does


Ludwig Göransson
Born:
1984 in Linköping
Family: Fiancée, parents in Linköping
Lives: Los Feliz area of Los Angeles
Career: Assistant to film composer Theodoro Shapiro (works a lot on comedies). First job was composing music for the comedy series ­Community. Has also worked on Happy ­Endings and New Girl. Produced Childish ­Gambino’s album Camp and has worked with Chance the Rapper. Composed music for ­various movies, including We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence and Everything, Everything and has worked with Disney Studios.
Current: Composed the music score for Black Panther. Produced some of the songs on the Black Panther album by Kendrick Lamar. Wrote the score for Death Wish starring Bruce Willis. Working on a new album with Childish ­Gambino as well as a new solo album. In the process of producing songs for the film Trolls 2, due for release in 2020. Also working on another ­superhero movie.

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Göransson has been working his way up the unforgiving show business ladder of Hollywood for many years. He has enjoyed many successes. One of his first major gigs was for the popular TV series New Girl, for which he composed some of the music. He was subsequently signed to Jay-Z’s record label Roc Nation in 2015 and was nominated for a Grammy for producing acclaimed artist Childish Gambino (the stage name of actor and musician Donald Glover).

But his most recent project, Marvel ­Studio’s Black Panther, is perhaps the biggest of all. The film was released in February and, at time of writing, has raked in a total of $1.347 billion at the box office and is the ninth-biggest grossing movie ever in US history.

Since the premiere, Göransson, who receives the sole “music by” credit for the film, has been inundated with ­requests from directors and studios that want to collaborate with him.
“Everyone in this town keeps an eagle eye on ticket revenues,” he says.

The 33-year-old grew up in Linköping, Sweden. His father was a guitar teacher at the municipal music school and his mother was a botanist. He started to play guitar when he was young and his first love was heavy metal. But as the years went by, he started to dip his toe into other genres. And after studying jazz at the Royal ­College of Music in Stockholm, he was drawn to film music, with which hefelt he could experiment. He applied to the renowned University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles and entered the film music program.
“It was the first time I’d been in the US. The first two years were very difficult,” he says.

At USC, he met the talented student-­director Ryan Coogler and the two worked together during their time at ­college. ­After graduating, they kept in touch and when Coogler made his first feature film, Fruitvale Station in 2013, he asked Göransson to write the ­­­score. The film was a critical success and the duo followed it up with Creed, a boxing movie that was part of the classic Rocky series. That also proved to be a hit.
“Kevin Feige, Head of Marvel Studios, loved Creed,” says Göransson. “That’s why Ryan was given the opportunity to direct Black Panther. Feige also loved the music, so it was no problem when Ryan asked to have me on board. Otherwise, it might have been difficult. I hadn’t worked on such a large production before and in Hollywood, people are nervous about bringing in inexperienced people. ­Everyone’s afraid of losing their jobs.”

Black Panther is largely set in a fictional African country called Wakanda, an ­economically-developed ­nation. Visually and ­culturally, the film is inspired by ­African history, aesthetics and culture.

Apart from its box office and critical success, Black Panther has also singled itself out because it is one of the few ­superhero films with a black actor in the lead role and the first feature film where people from minority groups make up the bulk of the production staff – including the director, actors and writers. The majority of the cast is also black. It is being hailed as a milestone for the movie industry, not least because it blows holes in the Hollywood myth that “black movies” ­cannot be a big box office draw.
“Most of the crew working on Black Panther were from ethnic minorities,” says Göransson. “I’m not. I’m a white ­European. I felt a huge amount of ­pressure being responsible for the music without coming from an ethnic minority. Music is such an important part of African culture, but I’ve seen so many Hollywood films set in Africa that don’t take African culture, music and instruments seriously. They create a whitewashed African sound, which is what a white, American audience believes Africa sounds like.”

Göransson knew something about ­African music having spent a month in a small village in The Gambia, learning about different tones, rhythms and melo­dies. And after he read the Black Panther script, he went to Senegal to spend a week on tour with the legendary ­Senegalese musician Baaba Maal. This was set up via Göransson’s old friend from Linköping, musician and producer Johan Karlberg, who with his band The Very Best had ­recently made an album with Baaba Maal and the British band Mumford and Sons.

After the tour, Göransson recorded ­various instruments and songs at Baaba Maal’s studio in Dakar, much of which can be heard in the movie’s soundtrack. He then spent some time in South Africa. When he returned home, he brought with him the entire International ­Library of African Music’s review of African music, which filled 230 CDs. It took him two months to listen to them all.
“In Africa, music is regarded as a ­language,” he says. “People use it to ­communicate. You don’t play just because it’s fun to listen to. ­Everything has a meaning. Every rhythm signifies something. I tried to transfer a sense of these traditions to the movie.”

There are two Black Panther albums, one with the movie score written by Göransson and a second with music ­inspired by the film, performed by ­Kendrik Lamar, one of the biggest artists in the world right now and someone who recently broke yet another barrier when he became the first rapper to win a ­Pulitzer prize.
“He saw a lot of his own messages in the film,” says Göransson. “Initially, he was only going to write one song, but in the end he created a full album.”

Parts of Göransson’s recordings and compositions were used in Lamar’s ­album to create a cohesive feel. This gave Göransson the opportunity to work with ­Lamar and his producer.
“It was a fantastic experience. He’s the biggest, most interesting artist in the world right now. Having the chance to work with him was a dream. He’s a genius.”

Göransson is fully booked for the rest of 2018. He’s working on a new superhero movie, writing songs for animated movie Trolls 2, due for ­release in 2020, and producing Childish Gambino’s next album.

As our photographer snaps some ­photos, Göransson puts on some music. Electronic beats interwoven with acoustic sounds. A male vocalist with a rather soft, light voice is singing. This is a side project that runs alongside all his other endeavors. It’s difficult to understand how he manages to find the time.
“My life has been running at a crazy tempo since I came here nine years ago,” he says. “I’ve never stood still, just kept moving.”

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