The “rumble in the jungle” was an extraordinary heavyweight fight in Zaire in 1974 between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The fight was won by Ali and with that victory he won back his world title against the odds.
The fight was the main event, but a three-day music festival, called ZAIRE ’74, also took place in Kinshasa, featuring some of the heavyweights of American soul, African pop and Latin-American jazz. It was headlined by the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, who was brought to Africa, alongside the Detroit Spinners, Bill Withers and BB King, by the festival organisers, Stewart Levine and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Also in town for the concert were Stokely Carmichael, the black power figurehead, and Don King, the motor-mouth boxing promoter.
The Soul Power documentary tells the story of the festival and its myriad characters in a swirl of images and music. It begins with the organisers frantically trying to build a stage, install a PA and hold it all together as the musicians start arriving.
The music mesmerises – and the audience goes wild in reaction to it. BB King wows the crowd with the restrained power of The Thrill is Gone, Bill Withers bravely slows things down with the brooding ballad Hope She’ll be Happier, and Brown climaxes with – what else? – Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud, which, had there been a roof on the stadium, would have taken clean tha duck off.
The vibe is celebratory throughout despite the hassles, the various besuited business opportunists and the great big elephant in the room – President Mobutu and his years of corruption and misrule. That one quibble aside, Soul Power is a dope glimpse of another time and another place, when things were more radical and more raw. One question though, where was Fela Kuti, though?