In 1974, some of the most celebrated American R&B acts of the day came together with a collection of the most renowned musical groups in Africa for a three-day outdoor concert held in Kinshasa, Zaire. A longtime dream of South African bandleader Hugh Masekela and concert promoter and record producer Stewart Levine, the finally festival became a reality when they convinced boxing promoter Don King to try to combine the event with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the epic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, previously chronicled in the 1997 Academy Award-winning documentary When We Were Kings. It would eventually be cleaved from the fight itself, but the show, dubbed “Zaire ’74,” brought together musical luminaries such as James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers and Celia Cruz, among a host of others. At the peak of their talents and the height of their careers, these artists were inspired by a return to their African roots, as well as the enthusiasm of the Zairian audience, to give some of the best performances of their lives.
A mess of captured material from this event is what forms Soul Power, an aurally engaging but sort of intellectually halfhearted concert
documentary that presupposes its audience agrees with the innate genius
and watchability of its unvarnished footage. Soul Power is a gift
to boomer-generation R&B fans, as well as a celebratory snapshot of
an era in which artists and entertainers were if not radical agents of
social change then at least more frequently and decidedly part of the
outside world around them — a world experiencing and grappling with
genuine upheavals in social justice and gender equality. But director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte never imposes some sort of overarching
voiceover narration or interwoven present-day reminiscences from either
participating artists or concertgoers, so Soul Power
never achieves significant standalone form. The
fitful, fleeting nature of its emotional connection serves as a reminder
that the choice of compelling subject matter alone does not necessarily
make for a good nonfiction film offering.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Soul Power comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional French subtitles. Supplemental features include an audio commentary track with Levy-Hinte and aforementioned producer Stewart Levine, as well as a clutch of deleted scenes. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) C+ (Disc)