USA, 2008, 93 minutes
Sun, Apr 26 / 5:45 / Kabuki / SOUL26K
For three nights in 1974, music filled the air of Kinshasa, Zaire, during a historic music festival that preceded the Muhammad Ali–George Foreman world heavyweight title bout, the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle.” Conceived by South African musician Hugh Masekela and his partner, record producer Stewart Levine, and made reality with the help of fight promoter Don King, “Zaire ’74,” as it came to be known, was a summit of sorts, a gathering of African American rhythm-and-blues royalty and their southern African counterparts. Masekela, James Brown, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, Bill Withers and B.B. King are among the stellar talents that take the stage in this cinema verité documentary capturing not only highlights from the concerts but also the complicated preparations, backstage machinations, street life in Kinshasa and reactions of the American performers to their ancestral homeland. Crafted from outtakes of When We Were Kings—the Academy Award-winning 1996 documentary that spun the tale of the celebrated boxing match—the leftover footage does more than document a hitherto lost musical moment as significant as Woodstock. It also captures a slice of history from the waning days of the Black Power movement. For the American musicians involved in the endeavor, the shows were not merely a gig but a political statement and a vital reconnection to their African roots. Beginning with Brown’s exuberant rendition of the titular song, the performances themselves are electrifying, every bit as thrilling today as they were 35 years ago.