The music festival “Zaire ‘74” assembled America’s biggest rhythm and blues talents – James Brown and the Mighty JBs, Bill Withers, B.B. King, the Spinners – along with top African acts such as Miriam Makeba and Afrisa. The festival was held in 1974 in Kinshasa, in conjunction with the boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman known as the “Rumble in the Jungle”.
Most of the American performers, emboldened by the civil rights movement, were visiting Africa for the first time, exploring their roots and somewhat naive beliefs about the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The promoters hired a team of esteemed documentary cameramen to film everything, including street life in Kinshasa and behind-the-scenes footage of the show being assembled. The crew masterfully recorded classic numbers such as Makeba’s “The Click Song,” King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and of course, Brown’s “Soul Power.”
Part of that footage was used in 1996 in the Academy-winning documentary film WHEN WE WERE KINGS which focused on the Ali-Foreman fight. SOUL POWER, with its unseen footage, plays like a time capsule, documenting the heady days when the musical crossover between Africa and America was just emerging. —Celluloid Dreams
Mel Stuart's superb Wattstax shows a mix of what went into setting the stage for a historic musical event and a glimpse of urban black life in the L.A. of the time. Levy-Hinte's Soul Power similarly strives to reveal a bit of Kinshasha and outtakes of the entertainers and musicians, but the ratio of minutia to music is off-putting - a crime when you understand what a once-in-a-lifetime musical event Zaire/'74 was.
I know what you're thinking, you foreign-DVD-mavens and followers of the Eureka!/Masters of Cinema label out there, not that the two groups