March 20, 2009 by  

Soul Power


Soul Power

The Spinners perform at Zaire '74 in "Soul Power."

Starring: Muhammad Ali, James Brown, B.B. King
Directed by: Jeffrey Levy-Hint (debut)

Some things just never go out of style. The saying rings true in “Soul Power,” a passionate and zesty documentary featuring some of the 1970’s most exciting soul music performers who are brought to the forefront during a complicated era to create harmony both on and off the stage.

In “Soul Power,” first-time director Jeffrey Levy-Hint presents archive footage of a historical concert that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire before the monumental 1974 bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (most sports aficionados know it as “The Rumble in the Jungle”). The film is a respectable companion piece to the Academy Award-winning feature documentary “When We Were Kings,” which documents the actual fight between champion Foreman and challenger Ali.

Known as Zaire ’74, the three-day music event was supposed to take place as a sort-of introduction to the Foreman/Ai showdown, but when Foreman injured himself during training, the match was postponed for a month and Zaire ’74 immediately became the center of attention. Since thousands of tickets had already been sold and Zairian President Mobuto Sese Seko was financing the festival, the show went on as planned.

Whether you go into “Soul Power” with feelings of nostalgia or pure enjoyment of the musical genre, Levy-Hint’s documentary does not disappoint. Like with any other concert movie that has come before it, the impression it will ultimately have on you will depend on one of two things: your admiration of the music performed by showstoppers like a young and extremely energetic “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, The Spinners, B.B. King, and “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz or your willingness to open your mind to a fascinating piece of musical history you may have never heard before. It’s a much better attempt than director Ang Lee’s cinematic trip back to 1969 for the disorganized planning of Woodstock in the ineffective narrative “Taking Woodstock.”

Whatever the case may be, “Soul Power” is a solid, well-crafted journey back in time to see firsthand how the racial roots between Africans and African Americans linked together through music and beliefs. It’s a subject that is lightly brushed upon especially when boxer Ali gets face time with the camera, but not explored as much as socio-political junkies would probably have liked. Still, “Soul Power” is more about the memorable musical moments and unique artistic expression we rarely get to see in concert movies these days. Take note Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. This is how it’s done.

Grade: B

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