Soul Power (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 17, 2010 by  

Electrifying performances!  Footage of the creation and the musical performances from “Zaire 74” bringing together America’s soul artists including James Brown, BB King, The Spinners from the US and Africa’s top talent plus Muhammad Ali and Don King and many more.  A time capsule of fantastic footage from the 3-day music festival from 1974 which looks and sounds absolutely great on Blu-ray!

Images courtesy of © 2009 Antidote International Films, Inc. and DASFilms, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Soul Power


DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen 1:78:1, English, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

RATED: PG-13 (For Some Thematic Elements and Brief Strong Language)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: January 26, 2010

Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte

Produced by Leon Gast, Jffrey Levy-Hinte, David Sonenberg

Cinematography by Paul Goldsmith, Kevin Keating, Albert Maysles, Roderick Young

Edited by David A. Smith


Muhammad Ali

James Brown

Celia Cruz

B.B. King

Don King

Miriam Makeba

The Spinners

Bill Withers

Sisters Sledge

You hold in your hands a backstage pass to one of the most extraordinary concert events ever filmed. Featuring musical legends James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz and a host of others, SOUL POWER documents the three-night Zaire ’74 music festival planned to coincide with the now-legendary and epic “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Much more than a concert film, Soul Power provides a dynamic fly-on-the-wall look into the turbulent proceedings, with on-the-spot commentary from the musicians themselves, concert organizers Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter extraordinaire Don King, Soul Power will leave you breathless.

1974.  The year that record producer Stewart Levine and South African trumpeter came up with an idea to bring together African-American and African music artists for a three day music festival.  The festival would also consist of a major heavyweight boxing championship between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (who was the current heavyweight champion).

In addition to the music festival and boxing championship, a movie would document the creation of this event which would be known as “Zaire 74” and the documentary which would be known as “Soul Power” would be directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte would be released in 2008.  The documentary covers the music festival while the fight was covered in the 1996 documentary “When We Were Kings”(producers of this documentary also produced “Soul Power”) which featured the championship match between Ali and Foreman.

“Zaire 74” looked very promising until the last minute when George Foreman had an injury which would postpone the boxing match for three weeks and thus the audience of expected international tourists was eliminated.

So, now the creators of the event have a difficult decision.  To go on with the music festival or not?  Featuring talent such as James Brown, BB King, The Spinners and African performers such as Miriam Makeba, TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and many other performers such as Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars to other celebrities including Muhammad Ali and Don King.  With so much invested, stages have been built…there was only one decision that could be made.  The show must go on!

“Soul Power” documents the festival from what took place before the event, the challenges the crew faced especially hearing from the Foreman camp, to the meeting between the talent and the performers performing a song onstage.


“Soul Power” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio).  One thing that I did notice that this film, now over 35-years later appears with a lot of grain.  Personally, this was no problem for me as a lot of music-based concerts from the 70’s have this look and personally, I would have it with the grain than without (ala DNR – Digital Noise Reduction).  Of course, there are people who are going to complain about the amount of  grain (ie. “The French Connection) but personally, I rather have a grainy look than a waxy, cloudy look due to DNR.

But for the most part, it was great to see everyone during this time period.  A time capsule of a time of seeing a music festival being created in Zaire.  You see quite a bit of earth tone colors and a good amount of detail of the people up front and close especially with Muhammad Ali and James Brown.

As for audio, the documentary is featured in English and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1.  The first half of “Soul Power” is dialogue driven.  Many of the crew and talent building the set, communicating to each other, talking on the phones, to the camera, etc.  Dialogue is clear and understandable (albeit people talking over each other at times).   I noticed even surround usage for crowd ambiance and other effects.  Of course, it’s when you reach the second half and that is where the film shifts to the music performances.   Audio sounds fantastic and there is good amount of bass.  Good use of the entire soundscape as the lossless audio just sounds vibrant and crisp.   Overall, people interested in this film should be happy with the lossless audio.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.


“Soul Power” comes with the following special features presented in standard definition in stereo with optional Portuguese and Spanish subtitles:

  • Commentary with Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Music/Festival Producer Stewart Levine – The commentary by both Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Stewart Levine is quite interesting.    If anything, the film is definitely nostalgic as they see themselves back in 1974 and reminisce about certain scenes and discuss the creation of the music festival and the talents that performed at the music festival.  Pretty much an informative commentary especially from Levine who gives some detail on the actual music festival itself.
  • Deleted Scenes – (42:11)  A total of nine lengthy deleted scenes including additional performances from other artists featured in the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:57) The original theatrical trailer.

The release of “Soul Power” is quite interesting.  Especially with a lot of music festivals on DVD and Blu-ray were typically rock-based releases.  This is the first documentary/film I have seen covering soul music.  I’ve always heard and seen footage from “Zaire 74” but mainly about the actual events leading up to the “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Ali and Foreman. Of course, there was another concert that took place in Ghana and was released on DVD titled “Soul to Soul” feature Ike and Tina Turner and many other talent which has not been released on Blu-ray but to see “Soul Power” look and sound so good on Blu-ray is fantastic.

The first half for me was very enjoyable as we see the challenges that the crew had to face in putting on this festival but also seeing Muhammad Ali being himself and just producing this continuous flow of words that he just doesn’t even hesitate as he talks about America’s perception of Africa and then what he saw in Africa and how peaceful it was versus what he has experienced in New York.  It was also great to see James Brown because so much footage we have seen is of a later James Brown but what a great opportunity to see him and many other musical talented perform but also to hear it in lossless audio.

Memorable scenes include BB King performing “The Thrill is Gone”, The Spinners, Celia Cruz and the gang just jamming on the airplane ride to Zaire and a wonderful performance by Miram Makeba and a wonderful ending performance as James Brown performs “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”.  Audience was definitely into the performance and for the most part, an energetic vibe on the concert end but a seemingly stressful side on the production end as the crew had their hands tied up on making this festival happen.

Many may be wondering if there is a big difference between the “Masters of Cinema” Blu-ray release and the Sony Pictures Classic version.  The MoC (UK) version comes with an exclusive video interview with the director plus extra concert footage of James Brown, Sister Sledge and the Pointer Sisters.  These additional performances are featured in the deleted scenes of the US release but the MoC version also includes a 36-page booklet which are not included in this Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray release.

Overall, it’s wonderful to have this documentary released on Blu-ray.  With so much attention on the Ali and Foreman fight featured in the “When We Were Kings” documentary, it was great to see that there was a lot of footage from the Zaire 74 festival especially behind-the-scenes on the production end.

If you are a big fan of soul music, “Soul Power” is a Blu-ray worth owning!

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