When We Were Kings editor Levy-Hinte unearths hundreds of hours of footage shot at Zaire ‘74, the Rumble in the Jungle companion event, and produces a concert film up there with Gimme Shelter, Woodstock and Message To Love: The Isle of Wight Festival.
The festival united the best of black American music with their African counterparts, and what the cameras caught was an electrifying fusion of funk, soul, R&B, Latin beats and tribal rhythms.
Levy-Hinte cherry picks fascinating behind the scenes vignettes from footage unseen for almost four decades. A starstruck fan gazes dumbstruck while James Brown signs an autograph, Muhammad Ali holds holds court comparing the supposed savagery of Zaire with life in New York, Sister Sledge teach traditional dancers the hip-gyrating “bump”.
Front and centre is the idealism of The Rumble in the Jungle and Zaire ‘74; that drive to raise awareness of black culture, black history, and the civil rights cause. “You cannot get liberated broke," announces “Honest” Don King, admitting the venture is to raise piles of dollars as well as awareness.
Ultimately of course, The Rumble in the Jungle was best remembered as one of sports’ finest hours, and Zaire ‘74 a footnote to the main event.
Kudos then to the filmmakers for rescuing it from obscurity, providing an HD brush-up, and awesome sound mix that brings the music to life with spine-tingling vibrancy.
James Brown, carrying off a paunch and low-cut jump suit, moves like funked-up mercury as the headlining act, and is more exciting than a dozen Transformers robot wars.
Other standouts include Bill Withers' hypnotic rendition of Hope She'll Be Happier, Miriam Makeba's "how does she do that?" Click Song, and the so-cool-they're-cryogenic Fania All-Stars.
Levy-Hinte's decision to stick with archive footage and ditch retrospective interviews gives the film a powerhouse immediacy, providing a fascinating snapshot of a time when major events were arranged without mobiles and Blackberries (just massive walkie-talkies).
Capturing the site, the sounds, the smells, and the sweat of a major musical happening, Soul Power is irresistible.