“Narcos” Composer Pedro Bromfman Discusses His Diverse Score

Composers often hire professional musicians to perform their respective instruments during a score’s recording session. Their expertise can provide authenticity and strong emotional impact to a scene. While creating the score for the latest Netflix hit “Narcos”, composer Pedro Bromfman intentionally setout to explore Colombian and South American instruments he had never played before. That exploration allowed for interesting discoveries, very unique sounds and an electrifying intensity.

The series follows the rise of the Medellin cartel and drug lord Pablo Escobar through the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. Bromfman wanted to infuse the score with an authentic flavor without relying exclusively on commonly used tropes, traditional Latin rhythms. He acquired many Colombian instruments including the tiple, the ronroco, a ten-string instrument similar to a mandolin, accordions, percussion and traditional flutes, peppering them throughout his crime/action score.

Bromfman said he “toyed with the instruments and recorded them every possible way. From that original session we created several software instruments that are exclusive to the show. Our own musical library to work with”

He also searched for inspiration on the traditional Westerns.

“Initially I had this thought that Colombia in the 80s was a bit like the old west. I thought of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns and Ennio Morricone’s scores”, said Bromfman. “That influence can be heard through the harmonica and the punctuating use of percussion.”

Brought onto “Narcos” by executive producer and director Jose Padilha, whom he previously partnered with on films including “Elite Squad” and the 2014 remake of “Robocop,” Bromfman was immediately fascinated by the subject matter. Growing up in Brazil, he remembers hearing about the situation in Colombia when the Cartels ruled the Country. However, working on the series, he learned a lot more about Escobar’s history, and found the complex dynamics and blurred morality, in both the US and Colombian key players, had to be explored musically. He used this juxtaposition as a basis for recurring themes that accompanied many of the main characters.

“For Pablo Escobar for example we needed two musical themes, a hopeful and romantic piece that translated his love for his family and the hopes he initially had for Colombia, as well as dark theme representing his ruthlessness and his descent into madness,” said Bromfman.

Bromfman fells he was extremely fortunate to start working on the music for “Narcos” at the script stage. This allowed for “ideas to marinate and ample time to connect with the characters”. His themes composed early on were also a major asset in the editing room, as editors were able to use his music while cutting their episodes.

“When editors use temporary tracks while editing, it’s often difficult for composers to go on a different direction and to create something truly original. Producers and directors get so used to hearing those pieces in the background that it’s often hard to deviate from them.”

The “Narcos” score is built primarily around string instruments and percussion. While Bromfman performed roughly 85% of the instruments himself, he did bring professional percussionists into the studio to capture specific styles, rhythms and effects.

“In the drug wars, as long as there is demand there will be supply. It’s an endless cat and mouse chase,” said Bromfman. “It is the music’s goal to create that almost hypnotic sense of dread and repetition.”