Synopsis: In 1974, the most celebrated American R&B acts of the time came together with the most renowned musical groups in Southern Africa for a 12-hour, three-night long concert held in Kinshasa, Zaire. The dream-child of Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, this music festival became a reality when they convinced boxing promoter Don King to combine the event with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the epic fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, previously chronicled in the Academy Award-winning documentary "When We Were Kings." "Soul Power" is a verité documentary about this legendary music festival (dubbed “Zaire ‘74”), and it depicts the experiences and performances of such musical luminaries as James Brown, BB King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz, among a host of others. At the peak of their talents and the height of their careers, these artists were inspired by this return to their African roots, as well as the enthusiasm of the Zairian audience, to give the performances of their lives. The concert has achieved mythological significance as the definitive Africa(n)-American musical event of the 20th Century. "Soul Power" is crafted from the extensive “outtakes” that remained after making WHEN WE WERE KINGS, which documented the epic title fight, but relegated the music festival to a small, supporting role. The “outtakes” have remained vaulted for the past 34 years, until now. Lensed primarily by celebrated cinematographers Albert Maysles, Paul Goldsmith, Kevin Keating and Roderick Young, "Soul Power" finally provides today’s audience the opportunity to experience this historic musical event in all of its magnificent, filmed glory.
Round-up: Most critics seem to think that the music festival chronicled by "Soul Power" is interesting, but the documentary has to work hard to overcome the impact of its predecessor, the boxing film "When We Were Kings." In Time Out New York, Joshua Rothkopf finds that "the diamond-sharp [Muhmmad] Ali, offers the doc’s most powerful political moments, saluting his black airline pilot and excoriating white violence. The fighter is about to become legend, and that tale is more compelling. But watching 'Soul Power' and its inspired stage work, you can almost believe that tunefulness is story enough." Lewis Beale, in Film Journal International, compares the two films also, "What emerges from 'Soul Power,' then, is a slapdash feel, as if the makers felt all they had to do was edit all this great footage, and that was enough. But it isn’t. 'Soul Power' could have been a wonderful companion piece to 'When We Were Kings.' Instead, it plays as an entertaining, but vastly inferior, knockoff." Nick Schager, in Slant, agrees, saying that the first half lags but that "once the legends hit the stage, the film finds a more comfortable groove, with Withers's mesmerizing rendition of "Hope She'll be Happier" and Brown's rollicking "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" proving two of the standouts."