You hold in your hands a backstage pass to one of the most extraordinary concert events ever filmed. Featuring musical legends James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz and a host of others, SOUL POWER documents the three-night Zaire ’74 music festival planned to coincide with the now-legendary and epic “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Much more than a concert film, Soul Power provides a dynamic fly-on-the-wall look into the turbulent proceedings, with on-the-spot commentary from the musicians themselves, concert organizers Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter extraordinaire Don King, Soul Power will leave you breathless.
While Leon Gast captured the “Rumble in the Jungle” in his Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, his editor, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, using Gast’s original footage, preserves the music portion of the event in Soul Power. In 1974 Stewart Levine and Hugh Masekela organized a three-day festival to celebrate African and African-American music in conjunction with the heavyweight bout. Just as Gast provided glimpses of the musicians, Levy-Hinte provides glimpses of promoter Don King and Muhammad Ali preparing for the day in which Ali would reclaim the championship from George Foreman. About Zaire, the fighter enthuses, “The people are so peaceful, and they’re no nice. New York is more of a jungle than here!” (Foreman is conspicuous by his absence.) Levy-Hinte also adds scenes of Kinshasa’s street life, concert preparations in New York, and backstage chatter, but the performances, which would benefit from onscreen titles, provide the highlights. Among them: the Spinners (“One of a Kind”); B.B. King (“The Thrill Is Gone”); Bill Withers (“Hope She’ll Be Happier”); Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars (“Quimbara”); Masekela’s wife, Miriam Makeba (“The Click Song”); and especially James Brown (“Cold Sweat”), who sports a denim jumpsuit with “GFOS”–Godfather of Soul–emblazoned in studs. Adding to the fun, Brown’s hype man introduces him by proclaiming, “This man will make your liver quiver; this man will make your bladder splatter!” And keep an eye out for Sister Sledge in rehearsal and George Plimpton at the press conference. Extras include deleted scenes and commentary from Levy-Hinte and Levine. –Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from Soul Power (Click for larger image)