'Roma' Music Supervisor Talks Soundtrack to Golden Globe-Winning Film: 'All of the Music Is Embedded in the Story'

Courtesy of Sony Music


From Juan Gabriel to 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' the music in 'Roma' recreates the music and mood of Mexico City in the 1970s.

Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director at The Golden Globes for his acclaimed feature film Roma, which also took home the award for Best Foreign Language Film, and is expected to be a contender in the Best Picture category when Oscar nominations are announced on  Jan. 22.

Now showing on Netflix, recreates the music and mood of Mexico City in the early 1970s.

“It was mostly about choosing songs that were on the radio,” says music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein, who worked closely with Cuarón, mining his childhood memories, as well as her own, and doing meticulous research into what different Mexican radio stations of the era were playing during the actual months represented in Roma.

“All of the music is embedded in the story,” Fainchtein tells Billboard. “It’s part of each scene.” Much of that music comes from the radio, playing in the house, and in cars.

“When a song comes on you also hear a radio station ID, and you hear an announcer and you hear a commercial because it’s part of the experience,” says Fainchtein, the Mexico-City supervisor known for her work on The Revenent, Birdman and The Butler, among her many film and television projects, which also include 11 international shows for Netflix just this year. “It’s getting you into that moment so you feel the temperature of the film and of the scene in which it’s happening.”

Roma, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and has already been shortlisted for the Oscars’ Best Foreign-Language Film (it's in Spanish, with dialogue between the domestic workers in Mixtec), is based on Cuarón’s experiences growing up in Roma, an upscale Mexico City neighborhood. It highlights the parallel stories of two women, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in domestic servant, and her employer, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), mother of four children. During a pivotal year, set against a backdrop of political unrest in Mexico, Cleo’s central role in the family becomes apparent.

There are 38 musical pieces in Roma, which range from a song by Juan Gabriel’s first album to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” sung by Yvonne Elliman on The Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack album, to British band Christie’s 1970 hit “Yellow River,” songs by José José and Javier Solis, and a track by Mexican rock group La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata: “It’s the colors of what we were listening to as kids in Mexico in 1970,” says Fainchtein, who produced the soundtrack together with Randall Poster.

Sony Masterworks has just released the 19-track soundtrack album. Here, for Billboard, Fainchtein previews six of those tracks.

Leo Dan, “Te He Prometido”

This song is in the very first scene (after you see the water and the soap.) It’s basically when Cleo is tidying up the rooms. Leo Dan is a famous pop singer from those days. In Mexico, he was kind of like a Tom Jones of the era.

Rocío Dúrcal, “Más Bonita Que Ninguna” 

This is playing when Cleo is in the kitchen...The kitchen in Mexico is always nice place because the nanny is there, the “Cleos” that we all had. There was good food, it was always warm, it was always where the radio played all the time, and  somebody who was with the kids all day was there. When I was ten years old I wasn’t listening to Rocio Durcal because I chose to, I might have chosen to listen to Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, but on the radio in the kitchen it was Rocio Durcal.

Juan Gabriel, “No Tengo Dinero”

I don’t need to tell you how important Juan Gabriel is. But this song is from the first album that Juan Gabriel released, in 1971.

Yvonne Elliman, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” -

[The album] Jesus Christ Superstar came out in 1970, and it was really important, huge in the whole world. My feeling is that then it was a certain class that would be listening to it [in Mexico], but then it became bigger. Afterwards there was the play, it was a movie. There was a Mexican version, so Jesus Christ Superstar really had a huge success in Mexico. We had the Yvonne Elliman song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” [which plays in a party scene in the film] and at some point for the scene, Alfonso asked for the cover, after the song was already chosen for that scene. You see the Mexican cover of the album, not the U.S. one [in the film]. It had a huge success in Mexico.

La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata, “Ciudad Perdida”

Cleo is going to meet the boyfriend at his [paramilitary] training, and this is a song playing in the car. That is maybe the most well-known rock band from the Seventies, La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata.

Acapulco Tropical, “Mar y Espuma” 

Near the end of the movie... you have an incredibly good song called “Mar y Espuma” by Acapulco Tropical. This was a couple of bands before the Bukis. The music is called tropical, but it’s not salsa, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. It’s the style of music played in the ’70s [in Mexico]. The genre is called tropical, it was between tropical and bolero. Bands like Pasteles Verdes, Los Babys, and Acapulco Tropical.