The Sound and Music of Roma

By Sarah Finegold, Marketing Coordinator  •  February 8, 2019


Of the films garnering buzz for the 2019 Academy Awards, few are as humanistic or sensitive as Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical opus Roma. After a long run of eclectic films – the risqué coming-of-age drama Y Tu Mamá Tambien, the magical Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the sci-fi critical darling Gravity to name a few – Cuarón’s passion project came alive to stunning results when it was released on Netflix in late 2018. 

Roma follows Cleo, an indigenous Mexican household servant working for a wealthy family in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Inspired by the beloved household laborer Libo from Cuarón’s childhood, Cleo’s extraordinary story - weaving together themes of class struggle, politics, complex family dynamics and the primacy of love - is rendered with meticulous care and detail in every aspect. And while it’s arresting on many levels, Roma’s use of sound remains one of the more unsung and remarkable triumphs of the work.

Roma’s sound creates a setting that is every bit as experiential and immersive as its stunning black and white visuals. Every single sound of the city jumps off the screen and out of the speakers. Scenes are a whirlwind of sights and sounds, from the sloshing of water to the ambient traffic noises to the frequent use of diegetic music – music is heard streaming from passing cars, blaring from the radio and as part of television and movie clips. While dozens of songs can be identified throughout the film, they are all interwoven in the rich setting and lush sound design.

To further embroider the film’s sonic tapestry, Cuarón enlisted music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein and a cabal of his favorite musical voices to create Music Inspired by the Film Roma. The album features a diverse lineup of musicians, many of them ASCAP members, delivering both original and “inspired remakes” that evoke their experience of the film.

After the album opens with a sample of the film’s sumptuous soundscapes, the next track is none other than art-punk legend Patti Smith’s tender re-recording of her 1996 “Wing.” Beck delivers a mesmerizing cover of the relatively unknown 1982 Colourbox track “Tarantula.” As one of Roma’s central themes is family, it feels right that the album inspired by the film deals deeply in family as well. Beck recorded “Tarantula” with his father, Canadian arranger and composer David Campbell. As far as “keeping it in the family,” this project goes even deeper by tapping Cuarón’s daughter Bu for her original “PSYCHO,” a slinky electro-pop torch song. She shows serious chops and wisdom beyond her 16 years in the standout track.

In another unexpected choice, post-millennial superstar Billie Eilish delivers a wistful ballad in her trademark rainstreaked tone in “When I Was Older,” inspired by the past lives of the film’s young philosopher Pepe. Co-written and produced by her brother Finneas O’Connell, the track is accompanied by a stunning lyric video picturing a moving scene from the film.

The album delivers a broad cross section of styles and perspectives, whether it’s DJ Shadow’s haunting interpretation of Señora Sofia’s quote, “We Are Always Alone” or UNKLE & Michael Kiwanuka’s driving organ and synth-laden “On My Knees.” It balances the voices of heavyweights and newcomers masterfully. The gift of Roma keeps on giving with this compelling collection of musical tributes. It’s the companion piece that this fascinating piece of cinema deserves.


RomaNow Playing on Netflix and in select theaters.

Music Inspired by the Film Roma is now available. Stream it on Spotify below and buy it wherever awesome music is sold.