Soul Power documents Zaire 74, the three-night music festival staged on September 22-24 to hype The Rumble In The Jungle, the iconic boxing match between George Foreman – then undefeated heavyweight champion of the world – and former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
The fight at the Stade du 20 Mai in Kinshasa, Zaire (known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1997) was celebrated in the 1996 Academy Award-winning documentary When We Were Kings.
The festival was almost cancelled when an injured Foreman postponed the fight by six weeks – he eventually traded punches with Ali on October 30, 1974. Ali won by a knockout in the eighth round. The decision to go ahead with the show was vindicated when over 80,000 people attended over the three nights.
There’s plenty of dialogue in Soul Power but it’s the performances that speak loudest about where black culture was in the mid-70s, with Godfather Of Soul James Brown and BB King working at the absolute height of their powers. James Brown is the closest the music world ever came to the self-eulogising motormouth Ali. On the song Soul Power he struts like a rooster then slips, slides and spins on crazy legs, attempting to anchor himself with his mic stand.
In contrast, BB King is at his most laid-back and confident on a career-best performance of The Thrill Is Gone. There are other great moments from Bill Withers (Hope She’ll Be Happier) and The Mighty JBs (a stunning Cold Sweat), but it’s JB and BB who are the real heavyweight contenders./o:p