It is nearly inconceivable to think that Soul Power was made from the leftover footage of another documentary (When We Were Kings). This is not yesterday’s pizza.
The subject, like the film documenting it, was only the second ring in a two ring circus. Dubbed “Zaire ‘74,” this famed music festival was merely riding on the coattails of the Ali-Fraser fight, “the Rumble in the Jungle”. In this film about music, however, Mohammed Ali contends with James Brown—and loses.
The film's tone is very nearly preordained by James Brown's (and his backup dancers’) gyrating hips as Soul Power opens. The initial outburst of hips and rhythm gives way to village life in a non sequitur of a scene in which a woman slings her children across her back and chest, places a jug upon her head, and walks in a movement of labored routine. The thread of this unsensational female moment can be traced through the film, as the women are all industrious and the men, by comparison, seem laid back and forlorn.
As the acts fly together from the U.S. to Zaire, Celia Cruz is depicted singing throughout the entire flight as the men drink and bond—but mainly drink. Throughout the movie, there is a feeling conveyed that men claim their moments of rest and entertainment, while women possess movement and determination.
Soul Power displays all types of temptresses and peacocks. The backup dancers all pivot and twirl masterfully, and the singers dazzle with their flamboyance and charm. In one scene, Sisters Sledge demonstrates dance moves to local performers backstage; however, their Philadelphia “bump” is out-sexed by Kinshasa’s move, a swiveling and grinding of the hips that one might see in clubs now, but would have been “illegal” then.
As you watch the larger than life musicians of the sixties and seventies—BB King, Bill Whithers, Celia Cruz—dance across the screen, you are relegated to the position of spectator. The air of intoxication ebbs and flows throughout, pulling the viewer this way and that by the music. That is, until the Godfather of Soul, exhausted, closes the films with his words instead of his hips.