‘Wakanda Forever’ Composer Ludwig Göransson on How Rihanna, Tems and Ryan Coogler Helped Honor Chadwick Boseman With ‘Lift Me Up’
Composer Ludwig Göransson won an Oscar in 2019 for his “Black Panther” score, and is again nominated for the original song Academy Award for “Lift Me Up” from the sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” along with Rihanna, Tems and director-writer Ryan Coogler. In the film, Coogler wrestles with the loss of Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa, the original Black Panther, the impact of that loss on the other characters, including T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and introduces audiences to a new, underwater civilization in the Gulf of Mexico, Talokan, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Göransson reflects on how the song came together:
Four years ago, while I was recording in Senegal, I was introduced to a beautiful West African instrument called the kora. The first seeds of “Lift Me Up” came from that trip, and I used a part of the melody in the first “Black Panther” when T’Challa travels to the ancestral plain for the first time and sees his father who has passed on. Hearing it now in a song meant to memorialize Chadwick Boseman himself has been both devastating and cathartic.
I’ve kept these chord changes with me in my head for a year and when I went to Mexico to record the sound for Talokan, I worked with a group called Mono Blanco. Using Mexican harp and guitars, we added another layer of meaning to the West African kora, and the integration of these two musical cultures felt very powerful. I was surprised by how well the two worked together. I knew we had something special, so I immediately went to director Ryan Coogler. I asked him if he thought there might be a place for this song in the film, and if so, could he come up with lyrics for it?
Ryan found the right words to capture Shuri (Wright) and T’Challa’s relationship.
In Black culture, if you ask someone to “hold me down” it means to look after you in a state of vulnerability. But it can also be interpreted as something or someone holding you back or keeping you from the height you’re trying to reach. Sometimes that person can be yourself.
With lyrics and most of the song, we took off to Nigeria to record with the artists and musicians. The first artist we worked with was Tems. We played her the idea while showing her some clips from the film. Tems came up with a painfully beautiful and intricate verse — the melody had the feeling of overcoming grief. We returned to Los Angeles and had talks with Rihanna’s team before we set out to record any more music. She was near the end of her pregnancy at the time. A few months after she gave birth, she saw the trailer, and immediately reached out to come in and see an early cut of the film. For Rihanna to see a film about motherhood at the exact moment she became a mother herself felt like synchronicity — it seemed to resonate with her in a personal way.
For the first time in six years, Rihanna returned to the studio, and I had never heard her voice sound like this before. There was a new kind of conviction and softness in her sound. She took the chorus of the song to a new level. I imagined Shuri singing to her brother the same way Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) sang to her son. After three weeks of meticulously fine-tuning every word, the feeling and melody line that Rihanna added to the chorus was a feeling of timelessness. It felt like the past, present and future all came together at the same time. Here you see me experience this exact feeling in the studio after Rihanna just played us the final recording.
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