Composer Germaine Franco on creating the music for ‘Encanto’ | Features
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, on the American side of the southern border, Germaine Franco traveled weekly to Mexico with her family to shop, eat and listen to music played by musicians on the streets of Ciudad Juarez. .
“It was my first influence,” says the composer, who is nominated for an Oscar for the first time in her 30-year career for music at Disney Animation Studios. Encanto, the story of Mirabel, a Colombian who struggles to find her place in a large family as the only member without magical powers. Franco goes down in history not only as the first Latina, but also as the first woman of color to be nominated for an Oscar for an original score.
“I had a brother and two sisters, and we listened to music, and we had a piano that I started tinkling to when I was young,” Franco recalls. “We weren’t a musical family, but we were always encouraged to do creative things.”
Franco started taking lessons and joined her school band, where she fell in love with the drums. “I became completely obsessed with [drumming],” she said. “My parents kept asking me, ‘Can’t you play the flute or the violin? The clarinet?’ And I said, ‘No, I play drums.’ »
In addition to his numerous credits, such as that of Pixar coconut (for additional music, in collaboration with composer Michael Giacchino), Dora and the lost city of gold, Little and animated television series The Casagrandesit was the percussions that made Franco the ideal composer to mark Encanto. There she collaborated with the film’s songwriter and lyricist, Tony Lin winner-Manuel Miranda, whose “Dos Oruguitas” saw her second Oscar-nominated original song. The bold and energetic music of Encanto is full of rhythms that bring to life the philosophies and art of Colombian literature and music to which Franco devoted herself to build the film’s score, especially with regard to magical realism.
“I had my Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende and I read them in Spanish,” Franco explains. “I received tons of books on Colombian history and I listened [to its music]watched Aboriginal videos, documentaries [Colombians] from the 1500s until today.
The film’s writer/director Jared Bush, director Byron Howard, and co-director/writer Charise Castro Smith gave Franco the guidelines: imbue the score with traditional Colombian rhythms; stay away from the typical “Hollywood Disney” composition; and become more intimate, more complicated and less romantic. But otherwise, they left Franco to her own devices.
Franco continued his research and began to formulate Encantomusical themes from. She incorporated the bambuco, a traditional Colombian rhythm similar to the European waltz. She bought a Colombian harp and marimba from the South American country and had them shipped to her home in Los Angeles. “I wanted to use the traditional instruments so you could hear the textures [of Colombia],” she explains.
But how do you incorporate magical realism – a literary genre and technique that incorporates fantasy, dreams or surrealism – into the music? “I didn’t have any examples of that,” Franco said. “It was more like I had to use my personal point of view on [magical realism] and interpret that in my score. It was very subjective. But I found the theme, then I started applying brush strokes. There are a lot of tremolos, where the guitarists tickle the guitars; you put reverb on it and it feels really spacious.
Franco repeated this technique with the Colombian harp. She began to find sound textures, or soundscapes, that would work for certain moments, such as when Mirabel’s grandmother was praying under her window or when Mirabel was walking through missing Uncle Bruno’s lair.
The feeling that Franco wanted to print Encantowas open and distant. “It’s very abstract to speak with words”, admits the composer. “But that was my idea. And the theme keeps coming up in a different way throughout the film. For example, you hear it in one version when [cousin] Antonio receives his [own magical bedroom], and at the end, when Mirabel receives his. This is the final declaration of Encanto theme.”
Another aspect of Colombian culture that Franco discovered during his research Encanto was the idea that Colombian music is feminine. So having the Latin voice reflected in the score beyond Mirabel’s narrative was of utmost importance to her.
“I kept coming back to Colombian women. I came across this quote [from renowned Afro Colombian singer Toto La Momposina], ‘La música de Colombia es femenina’, and I’m like, ‘Here, she said it, Colombian music is feminine.’ And Toto is the boss,” she laughs.
Franco believed there was a connection in the female voice that could help him into the world of magical realism. As she explains, another world exists as part of reality in magical realism. It’s not a fantasy; it’s just part of the standard. And she felt that the voice was a way to connect the two worlds.
“The female voice made sense to me because Mirabel is constantly trying to define herself and understand her role in her family,” Franco says. “She has this goal and she won’t stop. She is very brave. So, I thought having more female voices would increase the score.
The cantadoras – Colombian singers and marimba players mostly concentrated in the Afro-Colombian regions of the country – embody the same ethos as La Momposina. After Matt Walker — senior vice president of music at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios — secured seats in the Franco box to see Colombian singer Carlos Vives at the Hollywood Bowl, she knew on the way home what was necessary to complete its score.
“I was able to go backstage and meet Carlos Vives and his band and backing vocals,” Franco explains. “It was amazing because I had been listening to them for so long. I was really moved to be able to meet them. Coming home, I knew that if I could have Carlos’ female backing vocalists, the energy would be unstoppable.
Franco called Walker and told him his idea, and he and Disney were on board immediately. They hired 12 Colombian singers to record vocals for a number of sequences in the film, but most notably for the “Antonio’s Voice” line, when young Antonio rides the jaguar after his magic is revealed to him.
“I worked on this sequence for months,” says Franco, who kept adding soundscapes and trying out different instruments and arrangements. But it wasn’t until she added the Colombian choir with Vives band member Isa Mosquera that she felt she was finally lifted to a place where she was happy.
“Having the musicians and singers live, and his button accordionist Christian Camila Pena, I knew I had achieved that authentic sound,” explains the composer.
But Franco is quick to point out that Encanto is not a documentary. She didn’t limit herself to creating the sounds of the score exactly as they would have been in Colombia.
“It’s a narrative film and you have to adapt the music to the images, the dialogues and the intention of the narration,” she explains. “All in all, it was a lot to find the pieces of a puzzle that I could finally put together to make it work in the end.”