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The Power Of ‘Soul’ Is In The Music

When focused on the musical performances and the surroundings of its setting in Zaire, "Soul Power" is potent indeed.

But the documentary bogs down in its conventional and linear chronicling of the planning of a massive concert spanning three nights in 1974.

The concert footage is mesmerizing; the planning leading up to the show is pedestrian.

It's hard not to be riveted by the central idea of "the beat returning to the roots" and the performances of such luminaries as James Brown, Celia Cruz, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba or Bill Withers. It's fascinating to absorb the sense of celebration of African-American R&B artists as they perform in Africa.

Also noteworthy are songs by African musicians playing on Kinshasa street corners and the sights and sounds of the Zairian landscape.

But the film could use some judicious editing. The landmark music festival dovetailed with the famous championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, deftly chronicled in 1996's Oscar-winning documentary "When We Were Kings."

Though "When We Were Kings" gave limited focus to the music festival, this documentary would have been better if the entire focus had been on the wonderful music.

It's a shame so much time is spent on the prosaic concerns and predictable observations of concert planners and underwriters. But "Soul Power" does manage to bring to life the mid-'70s in a way that fictional films often only hint at. There are moments during the concert when the viewer might feel as if he were there on the festival grounds in Zaire.

"Soul Power" is worth seeing - and hearing - for the evocation of an era and above all, for the exuberant and infectious performances.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief, strong language

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