Jeffrey Levy-Hint's rough-hewn, hugely enjoyable Soul Power is both a tantalizing footnote to When We Were Kings, the 1996 documentary about George Foreman and Muhammad Ali's 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle," and a celebration of the nearly forgotten three-day music festival that took place in Zaire six weeks before the big fight. There's more good music in 93 minutes here than in all the Woodstock footage available.
Levy-Hint assembles his film without voiceover or commentary, resulting in an altogether more immersive thing than most music docs. The scenes detailing the business arrangements for the concert can't hope to measure up to the performances, but once the concert gets rolling, privileged moments abound: Manu DiBango's impromptu street-corner showcase with local African kids; B.B. King, looking professorial in glasses, as he works through his proposed set list backstage; Ali soliloquizing about hungry, underfed African flies and buying into Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's illusory paradise; the sheer flamboyance of the Spinners' matching Shazam sportcoats; Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars keeping everyone awake on the 14-hour flight by jamming endlessly in the aisles; Don King expounding on his "mode of operandi"; Miriam Makeba proudly proclaiming every syllable of her impossible-for-Europeans-to-pronounce name to a joyful crowd; James Brown asserting, "Don't bury me while I yet live."
One complaint: Why did Levy-Hint include all of a minor Bill Withers acoustic number while only showing a couple of minutes of the amazing performances from Afropop giants Franco and Rochereau? One hopes the DVD will resolve this issue.