Power and Soul

James Brown and The Fania All-Stars were some of the renowned Latino, African American and African musicians that were brought together in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for a 3-day music festival in 1974. The planners had approached Don King to combine the event with the title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.  Although the events were linked, the fight was pushed back to October. The footage filmed was originally to create the Academy Award Winning boxing documentary When We Were Kings. Hours of footage had previously remained unseen until Jeffrey Levy-Hinte released the film Soul Power in 2008.

Miriam Makeba performing in Zaire, September 22, 1974

The film features the musical performances of B.B. King, Bill Withers, Miriam Makeba, Celia Cruz, and The Spinners. Watching these masters is powerful. What is also striking are the connections and offstage comments by the artists and entertainers. Muhammad Ali, for example, talked about how his perception of Zaire changed once he arrived and the sense he had that “…savages are in America” as opposed to Africa. Performers in the show spoke many different languages and the film has scenes that show these barriers being broken down. Everyone had the ability to express themselves through music and dance. Their connections were also amplified by the bond of a common homeland.

Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco performing in Zaire, September 22, 1974.

All the performers expressed their interest in working for the empowerment and liberation of Black people. Soul Power continues this vision and shows the power of music in uniting people and understanding each other.

by Megan Cleary

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6 Comments

  1. Michele

     /  September 25, 2012

    Thanks Megan for posting this. Soul Power was such a powerful film that was made during a very controversial time. It was so powerful and groundbreaking to have so many talented African American Artists brought together in Zaire even after the postponement of the boxing match. In the video you included the quote “what I wanna bring back is the feeling,” is so moving because it is clear that the feeling of this festival was one of inclusion, love, equality and passion for music and life. It was the perfect message to embody what the purpose of the festival was and to document this and be able to display it to an international public furthered the empowerment of African Americans all over the world. Clearly this festival was not just about music but to celebrate the culture that these diverse groups had to offer and need for people to join together and celebrate as one. The representation of equality of people of all races and backgrounds comes through clearly and passionately and its still exciting to watch!
    Michele

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  2. C. Cummings

     /  September 25, 2012

    The impact Muhammad Ali’s visit to Zaire is still felt today. I have Congolese friends under 30 years of age who still pump a fist when Ali’s name is mentioned. He is loved. In 1974 many African countries were still pretty young in their independence. Cross-national support, especially from the Black diaspora on other continents, held significance for many Africans breaking out of the “third world” imagination and for the Black diasporans mindful of the homeland re-connection. Movies like “Soul Power” serve as archival references and a reminder of the power of the arts as activism.

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  3. Tori L.

     /  September 27, 2012

    Thanks for writing this piece. I believe that When We Were Kings is a great example of the connections that can be made across continents through music, art, creativity and dance. Often times, misconceptions about Africa as a whole, along with individual countries exist. Ali said it best, Africa does not have “savages”. Through movies such as these, we can continue to learn and educate ourselves about the similarities between cultures and debunk senseless myths.

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  4. Noora M.

     /  October 2, 2012

    Great piece Megan! Along the lines of Tori’s comment, movies like When We Were Kings and Soul Power remind us of the power of media. While these movies are enjoyable to watch, they are also important tools of education, history and culture. As the power of media increases daily in our society, especially social media, I especially appreciate when un-used footage is finally made into a film decades later; as was the case with Soul Power or other documentaries such as Black Power Mixtape (2011).

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  5. Nick L.

     /  October 2, 2012

    I wondered how this event compares to the Afro Punk festival that occurred a few weeks ago. I sort of yearn for more events like this that can celebrate cultures that are completely foreign to folks like myself. Plus, I wonder when the next time we’ll be able to bring so many influential black leaders available for such an event.

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  6. Noel M

     /  October 3, 2012

    Picking up where you left, Nick –I was at the Afropunk Festival a few weeks ago. It was great, but my immediate thought was that it doesn’t not compare. Of course, hind sight is everything, and I could stand completely wrong in 30 years. After all this footage sat untouched for decades before anyone thought it was worth compiling into it’s own movie. (and I did see cameramen at Afropunk!) I doubt even the musicians had an idea of how much their impact would have. (Although I’m sure with James Brown, Mohammed Ali, Bill Withers B.B King, Mariam etc. etc. etc. I bet they had a solid idea) I always feel great when I see cultural exchanges on a major scale, and the promotion of diverse cultures. Music festivals really are great at creating little communities for themselves. Maybe one day it will become a form of community organizing/development. Also The short clip actually reminds me of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party which came out a few years ago. I

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