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.
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.
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