Soul Power. That´s the title of one of the best musical documentaries I've seen in years. The soul is not only in the title and in the soundtrack, it´s at the heart of a movie made by Jeffrey Levi-Hinte that will make you wish the seventies were still here. I can't forget a marvelous scene in which Celia Cruz takes her shoe in her hand and uses it against the ceiling inside a plain to keep rhythm with musicians such as James Brown, Bill Withers and BB King during the 13 hours trip (that become a 13 hours musical party) that brought the best of African-American musicians to play in Zaire in 1974 just days before the famous boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
Levi-Hinte worked as an editor in the documentary 'When we were kings', that amazing film about that powerful "rumble in the jungle" fight that got an Oscar award in the nineties. He had seen all the footage and painfully had to leave aside the three days concert because it didn't fit in that movie. Now, thanks to David Sonenberg (who also produced 'When we were kings') Levi-Hinte has been able to bring back to life a soul festival that will make you wish you were born black (Tom Waits said to me once during an interview: "When I saw James Brown for the first time the only thing I wanted from then on it was to be black!" After watching Soul Power, I definitely understand him.
On Friday Levi-Hinte was at a screening of Soul Power at Silverdocs Film Festival in Washington DC. He brought with him Fred Wesley, one of the musicians that played that festival and who confirmed that The Crusaders, The Spinners, Big Black, Celia Cruz and the long list of performers -including many Africans such as Miriam Makeba- played "above their performance level" and that it´s definitely in the movie.
For years there were legal disputes that prevented any body to touch the concert footage. When those were finally over, Levi-Hinte approached Sonenberg with the idea of cutting a movie to be released in DVD. "But when I looked at the footage again after ten years, I realized it was too good to waste it in a quick editing so I ended working on it for three years". The result is worth the wait.
Nobody except the Zaire people (now Congo) who attended the concert had seen it until now. The power of Soul Power is not only in the performances. There's the details about how the concert came to life -the fight was delayed but they couldn't delay the festival- there's the incredible clothing of the times - and the hairdo's, specially Miriam Makeba's African-punk style-. Even better, there were the conversations they had... remember: it´s the time of black power, it´s the time of James Brown' funky tune " I'm black and I'm proud'". All those little moments in the movie are priceless.
Almost none of the musicians had been in Africa before. "There was the excitement of going to find our roots" said Wesley after the screening (where he playes a couple of tunes too!). None of them was aware, though, that Zaire was run at the time by a bloody dictator called Mobutu Seseko who blessed their performance. That part is not in the movie. But you won´t care because the film it's not about politics, it's about music. On July 10th Soul Power will be in the theaters. Whenever is available on DVD I will throw a soul party at home!!!!! Jose Castillo, I will wait for you to dj after the concert!!