How Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire's music in Vivo has been decades in the making
Vivo is available to watch now
If, like us, you've been spending the last three weeks bouncing to the beat of a certain drum, then you'd know that the one and only Vivo, available to watch now on Netflix, has a blast of a soundtrack.
Penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire (both of Hamilton and In the Heights fame), the music in the film (about a kinkajou travelling from Havana to the US to get a song written by his ultimate friend and mentor played at a mega concert) straddles a plethora of genres, with reggaeton, charanga, rumba, warasa or salsa spliced with more modern, bass-y tunes (Missy Elliot even appears on the album) and R&B. Miranda also leans on his freestyle passions – since Miami in the '80s was a hotbed of freestyle music.
It's mightily successful – thanks in large part to the work of executive music producer and composer Lacamoire, who himself has a background that is grounded in the same, rich locations where the film takes place: "Vivo has roots in Havana and in Miami. I'm Cuban. I grew up in Miami. So, this is like the perfect project for me to work on."
At the same time, Lacamoire notes that the film has a fair few influences "I'm a child of the '80s, and rock music, alternative rock. But all throughout everything was this underbed of Latin music, Cuban music, because I am Cuban-American."
Miranda has a whole wad of epic projects on the go right now, but Vivo has been a long, long time in the making: the Hamilton star first approached Lacamoire about the film way back in 2009, when he first wrote some new music for the movie. Lacamoire notes: "I don't think this is typical for a music person to be brought on as early as I was brought on to be able to propose ideas."
But it was also a family affair for Lacamoire: "There's actually a theme that I helped to compose for Marta [a Cuban musical star, played by Gloria Estefan in the movie] which to me because she is a diva that comes from that started to become popular in we're kind of picturing the '50s and '60s. And in my mind, I knew that we needed to have some theme to be her love song.
"For me, it was really a tribute to my father who is a big fan of Ernesto Lecuona who is probably the best well-known Cuban composer of piano literature. And he has a beautiful song called "Siempre en Mi Corazón, (Always in My Heart)"."
Miranda has been deep-diving on Twitter about the music, saying that, with the first number "One of a Kind", he dared himself to "start with the simplest rhythm in the world, and just keep building. Organ plays two chords, oompah oompah, and take off from there."
Some of the music was based on what Miranda had written when he was 18 years old, as he notes on Twitter:
Chorus Time. 1998.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 26, 2018
This song is called Say Goodbye.
I wrote it when I was 18 years old and about to leave high school.
With me from l to r: David Davidson, Dan Gonen, @arthurlewis & Mark Roaquin.
On one of the numbers, written during lockdown in May 2020, Miranda was actually inspired by his 5 year-old son: "While figuring out the chorus on piano, Sebastian wandered over and said, 'can I help?' He fooled around on higher notes while I kept working. Eventually he landed on this. I looked up said 'PLAY THAT AGAIN.'"
There's a fluidity in the music of Vivo – as much as the titular character goes on a journey, so too do the musical styles in the film. Character growth is matched by musical synthesis, with the film's team making sure that the original influences are revered rather than hamfistedly mashed into a big mixing pot of different styles.
As Lacamoire reflects: "Any time that I get to honour Cuban rhythms, Cuban music, Cuban styles, for me, it's a win."