Documentary covering a Stax Records-sponsored all-day concert at the 1972 Watts Summer Festival with performances by Stax Records artists such as Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, The Staples Singers, and more.
The Staple Singers,
Soul Power is a sizzling documentary which shows a glimpse of Africa in the early 70s, some of the greatest Afro-American entertainers at a difficult transitional stage in American history, Muhammad Ali, and the hijinks of staging a massive festival in the age of walkie-talkies.
This review is primarily meant to address the pans which dismiss Soul Power for being composed of stock footage, and to correct the assertion that Miriam Makeba is the only African performer to appear.
In the first case, it's NOT stock footage. It's footage that, for whatever reason, was unable to be edited or released within a reasonable period after the event. The footage was certainly shot with the aim of creating a film much like the one presented. Only now there is a patina of history which adds a huge dimension to the film. The film quality is exactly what should be expected for a documentary of this era, shot in Africa, and any expectations otherwise are naive.
It's likely that the film would have been edited differently had it been released in 1974 or 1975; the engrossing build-up would probably have been shorter, and the actual concert element would have been longer (my only qualm with the film). But we don't know what additional footage exists (aside from the deleted scenes), so there may not have been many options for the editors. And certainly, film stock buried for nearly four decades is susceptible to damage (see the deleted scene featuring Muhhamad Ali, the GOAT, leaving for Africa). In view of the circumstances, the footage is often gorgeous. Some of the conversation snippets are so fascinating they seem scripted.
In addition to Miriam Makeba, there is a wonderful dance troupe who take the stage as well as Tabu Ley Rochereau and his band Afrisa, and OK Jazz- probably the biggest names in African music during the 1960s/70s before Fela Anikulapo Kuti's ascendancy- and their performances are stunning (with an additional Tabu Ley set piece in the deleted scenes).
Overall, a great flick.
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