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Interview: Composer Alex Lacamoire on the Music of ‘Vivo’

Vivo is one of the year’s more enjoyable animated films. Our own Joey Magidson dug it (review here), and now we’re lucky enough to talk to the movie’s composer Alex Lacamoire. The film is currently available to stream on Netflix!

Here is our conversation with Vivo composer Alex Lacamoire:

Awards Radar: Hi, Alex! How are you doing? Congratulations on another successful Vivo! How many songs were created for the film? 

Alex Lacamoire: I’m doing well, thank you! I appreciate the congrats, and I’m really really proud of how the movie came out. There were about 12 songs created for the movie, although there are probably another 10-or-so songs that wound up getting cut along the way. That’s one of the things I love about the creative process: you start with a certain trajectory in mind but the story can change along the way. It becomes something else that you may not have imagined when you began.  It’s not to say that the songs we cut weren’t strong; it’s just that the newer songs felt even more tailor-made for the new story that developed over time. 

AR: With your Cuban heritage and growing up in Miami, is that what attracted you most to Vivo? What did it mean to work on a project that represented your background? 

AL: I do think that me being a Cuban-American is a big reason why Lin-Manuel Miranda asked me to be a part of the movie. As a Puerto Rican composer, Lin already knows a lot about Latin music, but he would be the first to tell you that he’s not an expert in Cuban music, specifically. I admit that I’m not an expert in that field either, but there’s definitely something that I have tapped into via my upbringing around a Cuban family that would have been different had I been growing up around a Puerto Rican family. I will say that this kind of representation in the movie warms my heart in a way that is so personal to me and very unique compared to other projects I’ve worked on. This is a project where I can play the movie for my immediate family and see their eyes well up with tears upon seeing their homeland reflected in film, as well as hearing “their music” reflected in Vivo’s score. That’s really powerful, and I have had my proudest moments playing selections of Vivo for my Cuban family. Here’s hoping that more films, tv shows and musicals represent Cuban culture. 

AR: How did you prepare for the film? What goes into writing the score for an animated movie? 

AL: Listening to “the classics” definitely helped me. I would listen to old school Cuban songs on my daily walks through the park: tracks by Machito, Chico O’Farrill.…I would draw inspiration from artists and songs that were meaningful to my family (Beny Moré, Pérez Prado…). I found it easy to write for an animated movie because of my Broadway experience. I find that on Broadway my arrangements are allowed to be bold and to make sharp turns. I find this style is well-suited for an animated movie as opposed to a dramatic movie where the music tends to need more subtlety and transparency.  I loved that there was an easy crossover for me. 

AR: What was the collaboration process like for creating music for the film? 

AL: It was an absolute honor to be so included in the collaborative process on this film. I felt like the directors and producers were asking for my input at very early stages, much earlier than I think is common for films. I truly felt that my ideas and arrangement proposals were shaping the way the movie was being animated. That’s a big honor for a musician like me: to think that because I suggested an idea, it might appear on the screen. Usually, it’s the other way around. The folks at Sony Pictures Animation were very interested in hearing what I had to say not only as Lin’s close friend and his frequent collaborator, but as a Cuban-American musician. I really felt that they valued my opinions. 

AR: Do you have any songs that are your favorite from the soundtrack? 

AL: It varies on the day!  Today I think “Keep the Beat” is my favorite, but other days “Mambo Cabana” will come out as my favorite. Sometimes “Inside Your Heart” is my favorite. I think Lin’s songs for the movie are so well-crafted, and they still bring me to tears (the good kind!)

AR: What was the highlight of working on Vivo?

AL: I’m really proud that we were able to finish this movie in a pandemic. The movie was slated to be released in 2020, but then the world went on pause and the plans shifted. I’m amazed that our team was able to continue writing, recording, animating, refining, orchestrating, and mixing all through what was a very scary time in our lives. Honestly, the film was completed before vaccines were made available to the full public, so to know that we were able to finish a movie while mostly being remote is a huge triumph. A lot of recording sessions were done over Zoom. That’s not what I would have expected to have happened, but we found a way to push through to finish the artistic process.

AR: Do you have any upcoming projects you can speak about? 

AL: I’m excited about Tick, Tick… Boom! which is coming out in November. This is Lin-Manuel’s directorial debut and I think he did a fantastic job adapting this story to the screen. Also, I love the songs from that show (which ran Off-Broadway in 2001)! Jonathan Larson was a genius and I feel proud that we get to honor his piece in this way. 

AR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us as we wrap up? 

AL: I’d like to say that this movie was so much fun for me and it really hit close to home on a lot of levels. I loved the themes: how one can find friends in the most unlikely of places, how music can heal….When I think that people might be exposed to Cuba, Cuban culture and Cuban music through Vivo, I marvel at the fact that art and entertainment can also educate, as well as inspire. On Instagram, I saw someone dancing to “One of a Kind” in La Plaza Vieja in Havana, the very spot where that song takes place in the movie. That’s a HUGE deal to know that this movie has made an impact over there, because Netflix is not accessible in Cuba. I will never forget that: watching someone I’d never met dancing in my family’s homeland, moving to an arrangement that I created.

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