12 May 2009

Soul Power

Written by Published in Issue 15 - Renew Read 2521 times

In October 1974, the most celebrated R&B and soul acts of the time descended on the African town of Kinshasa to perform in a three-day music festival, Zaire ’74...

Staged in conjunction with the epic heavyweight title fight ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the event has since been under-represented, with footage at the time being dedicated to the making of the documentary When We Were Kings. After 35 years in storage, the tapes have been revived by director Jeffrey Levy- Hinte to create this powerfully irresistible documentary, celebrating the exceptional performances of James Brown, B. B. King, Miriam Makeba and Sister Sledge, to name a few.

Lacking unnecessary present-day commentary, Soul Power is produced solely from clips following the duration of the event. Through the planning stages in New York to a closing-night performance by the ‘godfather of soul’ himself – James Brown – the beauty of the film lies in its celebratory, memoirist quality. Levy-Hinte wastes little time on context and lets the music speak for itself. A full-length set from Bill Withers establishes the essence of the film. Sitting solo, facing an audience of thousands, eyes hard shut and sweating profusely, he hauls out a mesmerising performance.

In between festivities, we get a glimpse of the event’s inspiration as Ali, Brown and promoter Don King praise the event as a mark of diplomatic recognition for Black Power in the USA and internationally. Emphasising the importance of ‘going back home’, the festival combined Zairian entertainers among Afro-American artists. Although they are represented only briefly throughout the film, Levy-Hinte none the less makes clear the nod of appreciation from the US stars and their intention to pay tribute to their African roots.

Stripped bare, this film really is a celebration of music and the sheer impact it has on all of us, regardless of colour or nationality. If the idea of a documentary puts viewers off, an exception should be made in this case. Soul Power could not be successfully presented in any other way. The true power of live music is what makes this film, and with its UK launch at Glastonbury later this year, it is guaranteed to elevate spirits and inspire summer audiences to ‘get down’.

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