Aamina Gant and Ava DuVernay
Introducing the first in a new series for TelevisionAcademy.com: On Your Radar, where seasoned entertainment professionals highlight new and upcoming talent as ones to watch. In this installment we meet Aamina Gant, music supervisor on several of producer-director Ava DuVernay's projects, including Queen Sugar and Colin in Black and White.
You might say that music supervisor Aamina Gant was born knowing how to pick exactly the right song for exactly the right moment. After all, Gant, whose father Dean was a songwriter and keyboardist, came of age literally looking up to musical legends, often toddling around parties where luminaries like members of Earth, Wind & Fire mingled in the room. "Music has never not been a part of my life," she says. "I was in the studio with my father, six or seven hours [at a time], falling asleep listening to music."
Yet for all Gant's bona fides — her background also includes singing background vocals, as well as stints in music management, booking and publishing before her transition to TV and film in 2013 — it was her work ethic that earned her the top music supervisor spot on several projects by producer and director Ava DuVernay. Gant started as an assistant to the music supervisor on DuVernay's Colin in Black and White (Netflix) but that soon changed.
"When that [supervisor] didn't work out," DuVernay recalls, "I said, 'The work has been getting done; who's been doing the work?' Oh! Aamina has been doing it. Very selflessly, without saying, 'I did it,' she was just doing her job. She knew she was good at her job, she played her instrument, she stayed in her lane. And I was like, 'Well, your lane needs to be over here.'"
That's when Gant and DuVernay's ever-expanding creative collaboration took off. Gant went on to serve as musical supervisor for DMZ (HBO Max), Naomi (The CW) and Queen Sugar (OWN). "Aamina does it with so much class, elegance, hard work and creativity," says DuVernay, who is no stranger to the work herself, having served as music supervisor on her own first four films. "She's just been a joy to work with."
A joy and, it seems, a kind of savant. Music, DuVernay explains, can serve many different functions on a television show — as opposed to on a film, where tunes are more part of a tapestry. Music can punch up a slow scene, move the narrative forward or even divert viewers' attention from something creators would rather we didn't notice.
Gant not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of music past and present ("I listen to everything, even if people DM me stuff") but an understanding of the business, which makes her an invaluable asset.
"It's not about the song that you like," Gant says, "but did you meet the [budget]? You need an understanding of music publishing and licensing, which is its own beast, and one of the foundational skills to do this job." These are highly specific asks that must be made quickly — asks that DuVernay knows Gant will nail every time.
Of course, while Gant can search through a mental catalog of sounds that may be appropriate for a scene, she also knows when to lean on the familiar to make magic. Case in point: when she placed the 1980 song "All Night Thing" by her father's group, Invisible Man's Band, in episode five of Colin. "The mission was to find [a song] that gave that energy — [and] that we could afford," Gant says.
"I was at my grandma's house and I'm just playing different music. And my grandma says, 'What about your dad's song?' In my mind, this is my father's song I know from being little; I'm not familiar with it outside of the space of my family. They put it to picture for Ava, and she started singing it. She had no idea my father had just passed away months before this," Gant says, fighting back tears. "I was like, 'You know this song?' and [Ava] said, 'What are you talking about? This is a hit song!' She's singing the lyrics, and it was one of those moments where the universe — it just all came together."
To read more about Ava DuVernay's current catalogue of content, click here.