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Rumble In The Jungle, 'Soul Power' In The Streets

We Were Kings ... Of Funk: James Brown was one of many performers who made it to Kinshasa, Zaire, for the "Rumble in the Jungle" pre-concert. Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

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Sony Pictures Classics

We Were Kings ... Of Funk: James Brown was one of many performers who made it to Kinshasa, Zaire, for the "Rumble in the Jungle" pre-concert.

Sony Pictures Classics

Soul Power

  • Director: Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
  • Genre: Music Documentary
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Not rated: Suggestive dancing, but otherwise fine for soul fans of any age

With: Muhammad Ali, James Brown, B.B. King, Don King

Watch Clips

'Jamming With The King'

'Rehearsal'

'Float Like A Butterfly'

'Godfather Of Soul'

Under African Skies: Orchestre Afrisa International lead singer Tabu Ley Rochereau is one of many African performers who shared roots and music with his American counterparts. Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

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Sony Pictures Classics

Under African Skies: Orchestre Afrisa International lead singer Tabu Ley Rochereau is one of many African performers who shared roots and music with his American counterparts.

Sony Pictures Classics

Muhammad Ali got what he wanted from the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire: a victory over rival George Foreman. But for the filmmakers and concert promoters involved in the 1974 project, it was no knockout.

A movie about the fight, When We Were Kings, didn't arrive until 1996, after years of legal crossfire. Then came a 13-year further delay before Soul Power, which documents the performances of James Brown, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba and others at a three-day musical showcase staged in advance of the championship bout.

Way in advance, as it turned out. Originally designed as a companion event to the Ali-Foreman showdown, the Kinshasa concert couldn't be rescheduled when the fight was postponed for six weeks. (Foreman had suffered a cut while training.)

Ali stayed in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) during the interruption, and he offers most of the offstage commentary. Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, one of the editors of When We Were Kings, also shows preparations for the concert, and the promoters' travails.

There's barely enough of such material to construct a coherent narrative, however. Viewers who come to the movie with no knowledge of the 1974 event may have trouble following the back story.

Fortunately, that doesn't matter once the music starts. The headliners are inspired, the audiences exuberant and the sound crisp and full.

Also on the bill are such '70s stars as Bill Withers, The Spinners and The Crusaders, as well as the Fania All-Stars, featuring Afro-Cuban diva Celia Cruz. These musicians illustrate the range of African-American music: from folk and soul to jazz and salsa.

Aside from Makeba, few African musicians were internationally known in 1974. The film does offer fine performances, though, from two Congolese groups familiar to Afropop buffs: OK Jazz and Afrisa.

Those troupes' respective stars, Luambo "Franco" Makiadi and Pascal "Tabu Ley" Rochereau, achieved brilliant careers, if not James Brown-style fame.

Delightfully, Kinshasa's streets are alive with music, and snippets of sidewalk performances are integrated into the movie. The musicians are unidentified, alas, but then after 35 years, the filmmakers probably don't know who they are.

The one sour note is Soul Power's failure to acknowledge the political situation in '70s Zaire. Large posters of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko provide a bitter but unacknowledged contrast to Ali's claims that the country is "free" and "peaceful."

It wasn't, even during those three nights when African-American music joyously returned to its rhythmic home. Soul music of the 1970s did have power, but that not much power.