Questlove arrives in Harlem for “Summer of Soul”
by Greg Carlson
July 01, 2021
If the accolades for Ahmir Khalib’s directorial debut “Questlove” Thompson as a feature documentary director are any indication, we are on the cusp of a new “Summer of Soul” in the warmer months of 2021.
Claiming the Grand Jury and Audience Award after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Questlove’s beautifully constructed film is a history lesson and a celebration. Something akin to unearthing a time capsule, the film features the sights, sounds and memories of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts held over a six-week period at Marcus Garvey Park. (then called Mount Morris Park) in New York.
With thrilling live sets of a line-up to die for including Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Max Roach, the Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, the 5th Dimension, David Ruffin, and many others, the concerts have been called the Black Woodstock for their emphasis on African American pride and popular culture.
Despite capturing the shows, producer Hal Tulchin never made the material into a theatrically released concert movie or movies (WNEW Channel 5 aired a series of specials at the time). Incredibly, the treasure was in a basement until Questlove made it his mission.
Questlove brings together the wide range of elements with the skill of a scholar and a seasoned practitioner, blending songs with memories in a master mix made especially difficult given the staggering amount of talent and desire to tell the story. accompanying story. Several interviews and articles touched on the true qualities of the Roots co-founder as a musicologist, DJ, percussionist, historian, record producer, songwriter and superfan.
The film’s full title, “Summer of Soul (… Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” alludes to the messages of pride and power that spring and crackle through the music.
Many interview subjects contextualize 1969 as an inflection point in black history, citing recent changes and upheavals in the American civil rights movement as a catalyst and prologue. The Black Power movement – still on the rise during the Harlem Cultural Festival era – informs the attitudes of performers on stage and citizens in the audience.
Fifty years have passed in the blink of an eye. And yet, “Summer of Soul” is one of those instantly recognizable artifacts armored in timelessness. Sure, 5th Dimension’s “cream” outfits almost scream their date and timestamp, but a lot of other togs would be all the rage today.
Musa Jackson, who attended as a child, describes the general atmosphere, reminiscent of beautiful women and handsome men (“It was like seeing royalty”). He paints a vivid picture of a scene familiar to anyone who enjoys the adrenaline rush of outdoor concerts: “It was the ultimate black barbecue. And then you start to hear music and someone talking. And you knew it was something bigger.
“Summer of Soul” is indeed something bigger. Fans of rock, R&B, soul, funk, pop, gospel and jazz will now be able to browse songs to study highlights and locate new favorites.
“Summer of Soul” is in theaters and on Hulu starting July 2.