I defy anyone to sit still through much of Soul Power, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte's infectiously funky concert documentary about the Zaire '74 music festival.
The film itself could easily be considered an afterthought, an aggregation of outtakes from When We Were Kings, the 1996 documentary about the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight. But the performances that Soul Power captures are so captivating, so exciting, that it holds its own.
The festival it chronicles was organized to coincide with the Ali-Foreman fight -- famous as the "Rumble in the Jungle" where Ali won back the heavyweight crown using his rope-a-dope strategy. When Foreman was cut over one eye during sparring shortly before the fight, it caused a six-week delay in the bout -- just as the festival was about to commence.
But concert promoters Stewart Levine and Hugh Masekela went forward with the three-day music festival, blending top Afro-pop acts with the cream of African-American music of the time: the Spinners, B.B. King, Bill Withers, the Crusaders -- and James Brown. As the film shows, the chance to perform in Africa provided a profound cultural experience for the visiting musicians.
Levy-Hinte was an editor on Leon Gast's When We Were Kings, the award-winning documentary about the fight itself. That film featured a nod to the festival -- but focused on the Ali-Foreman showdown. Levy-Hinte went back to the archive and pulled a new, exciting film out of the mountain of footage, one that focuses on the festival and the performances, which are nothing short of electrifying.
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