Steve Kujala, former Evanston resident and 1973 New Trier graduate, returns to Chicago for a one-night performance with the Chicago Philharmonic to perform Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther” soundtrack live with the film on the weekend. -end of June 19.
Kujala will play the flute, which portrays the antagonist Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan in the film.
Music has always been a part of Kujala’s life, having first played the piccolo at the age of five with his father, Walfrid Kujala, former longtime Chicago Symphony piccolo player and Northwestern teacher. He started the piano at the same age and began studying the flute at age 10.
In addition to the influence of his musically inclined parents, Kujala credits former director of New Trier West High School’s recording jazz ensemble, Roger B. Mills, for helping him on his journey. The set even created a website about their story and the teacher who inspired them.
With a focus on ethnic flutes, Kujala has been able to perform with a variety of ensembles throughout her career, including live musical performances of Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s “Black Panther.” He also has a background in classical, jazz, rock and world music and has used this background in over 600 film soundtracks.
“I kind of had the best of all worlds. I didn’t have to be restricted or confined to anything,” said Kujala, 67. “I could kind of choose as I went. , which was very liberating and creative.”
Amadou Ba, original flautist from the “Black Panther” soundtrack, plays the Fulani flute while vocalizing through and in tandem with the instrument. Kujala, who now lives in California, said he’s used this style of play before, but it’s not exactly the same.
“I’m just giving my best emulation of what the guy on the soundtrack is doing,” he said. “I transfer so much of my knowledge of ethnic flutes to the ‘Black Panther’ part trying to honor the original guy on the soundtrack while bringing some of my own sensibilities to the part.”
With their pitches differing by an octave, there are a few parts of the soundtrack where the original is retained. However, the majority of the flute will be Kujala playing live.
According to Kujala, the experience of hearing the score performed live as opposed to the film’s soundtrack can be life changing for attendees.
“A lot of these parts, like the one I’m playing, in the score are sort of integrated into the mix whereas when we’re doing it live they’re going to be a lot more noticeable than people would be used to hearing,” he said.
Alongside Kujala is Massamba Diop, a world-renowned Senegalese talking drum master, who performed on the soundtrack. Compared to Hollywood performances, there aren’t as many soloists, but Kujala said it would be just as fun for him.
The film’s protagonist, T’Challa, is played by the late Chadwick Boseman, who died in August 2020 of colon cancer and worked on the film during his illness. “Black Panther” was a fitting tribute for him to leave us, according to Kujala.
“Chadwick is amazing and he left us way too young. I think he left his best work on film,” he said. “I’m honored to be on stage with him representing Chicago. “
Kujala said he saw parallels between the experience T’Challa took on his father’s throne and his own experience filling in for his father with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when they performed at Ravinia in Highland Park where the band is in residence during the summer months.
“I trained my whole life to follow in his footsteps and he literally temporarily gave me the keys to the kingdom and said ‘Steve, you’re going to replace me for 10 days,'” he said. “So I was able to sit in his chair with his colleagues who I grew up with coming to Ravinia for rehearsals as a kid.”
The performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on June 18 at the Chicago Theater. Some tickets are still available but are selling out quickly. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased online.