In 1974, a group of American promoters got together to stage a World Title boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. They wanted it to be held in Africa, and the President of what was then called Zaire stepped forward to offer his country's services so that the so-called Rumble in the Jungle would go ahead. That was a world-famous sporting event, still talked about today, yet what is lesser known was the music concert put on over three nights in Kinshasa which featured a host of big names, both African and African-American...
Perhaps the reason that this massive concert was forgotten about was twofold: it was utterly overshadowed by the Ali-Foreman fight, and that the footage shot for a commemorative film lay neglected for over thirty years due to the company owning it going bankrupt, and as is so often the case with these things, legal wrangles prevented it being put together in a proper form. Yet even then, the results, now called Soul Power, did not exactly set the world alight, whether the music world or the movie one, though it was well worth seeing if you had any interest in the subject matter. It's just that the passage of time had opened up a gap between then and now, and the film did little to seal it.
So what you're looking at does not come across as if you were there and vividly experiencing the sights and sounds of 1974 in the African city, more as if you were watching a time capsule from way back when and regarding this as one might a historical document. There is quite a large chunk of the footage given over to the setting up and preparation of the event, which is all very well as it gives us a chance to see what was going on behind the scenes, but as the halfway point in the movie arrives and we've only seen about one performance, you might begin to feel shortchanged in light of how much else there must have been in the archives.
Among those artists flying into Kinshasa from the U.S.A. were James Brown, the headlining act and evidently believing this was a hugely significant show for him to do, B.B. King, who looks a little uncomfortable in the heat (you can see the perspiration pouring off more than one American performer), The Spinners, who can still bust their co-ordinated dance movies even in those temperatures, and a very young-looking Sister Sledge who curiously we see rehearsing a couple of times but never actually hitting the stage. Adding another half hour would surely have provoked few grumbles, especially as the music is the best reason for catching this, but director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte prefers to go with yet more scene-setting.
If you've seen When We Were Kings, the documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle, then you'll be aware of this, but where that was fascinating in all sorts of ways, here you feel at a distance from the situation, perhaps because it's all footage of the time, with no interviews from later on to set this in a context. It is good to see Ali (but what happened to Foreman?), as he was always an excellent public speaker and it's charming to see how delighted, even awed he is to observe his pilots were black and that the Zairean capital is not a collection of mud huts (!) but a living, breathing city, although his black separatist views may rankle with some, but do illustrate the point, echoed by the American artists, that they felt as if they were going "home" during this excursion. It's the music you'll most want to hear, as little controversial happened offstage except that the actual fight was delayed for a few weeks, something you can see in the superior Kings; when the stars play Soul Power proves its worth.