On August 15-18, 1969, the Woodstock music festival was held. More than 400 thousand people poured out. Only about 160 kilometers away, the Harlem Cultural Festival is held, which between 29 June and 24 August features six free concerts. Around 300 thousand spectators attended, indicating that the scale of the two shows is actually not much different.
But when Woodstock became a historic event that continues to be celebrated today, the Harlem Cultural Festival was forgotten. While Woodstock gave birth to many tributes, including a documentary of the same title which was released a year after the concert, the video recording of the Harlem Cultural Festival sat in the basement for 50 years, with no one willing to publish it, even though it was labeled “Black Woodstock”. Best Movie Site
Is it because the lineup of musicians is less well known? Absolutely not. Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, Sly and the Family Stones, and many other legendary names, appear in Harlem. Even Sly was included in the second day of Woodstock’s line-up.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) as Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut tries to answer the anomaly above. Bringing the video footage, which if a total duration of 45 hours, to the surface, with the hope, this historic event for black people also raised to the surface, and get the recognition it deserves.
Then Tony Lawrence initiated the implementation of the festival, and the sadly forgotten history was finally created. Finding the reason behind the forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival is not difficult. As black history is also often deleted, racism is the cause. That’s why Questlove is not trying to investigate the reasons for the loss of history, but rather to absorb the stories behind it.
So many musicians act on stage, and each one has a story to tell. The 5th Dimension for example, which combines black music with pop. This artistic choice made them called “white act”, underestimated by their own community. Through the Harlem Cultural Festival, they want to prove themselves, hope to be accepted. There is also a line of gospel musicians working to spread love and God, in an era where many individuals are losing their way.
Sly and the Family Stones break stereotypes by not wearing a suit, having a female trumpet player, while the drummer is a white man. The spirit of equality that radiates perfectly through their song, Everyday People.
Soul, blues, pop, gospel, various genres melt in this festival. In this movie. Indicates how the Harlem Cultural Festival eliminates differences in background, style and ideology. How can the black community (and Harlem), which as a result of white propaganda are often labeled as perpetrators of violence that divides national unity, can actually ignite unity, only through free music concerts. Meanwhile, the state with all its wealth, failed to do that, more concerned with traveling to the moon than its people.
At first glance, Summer of Soul’s narration seems ordinary, just like most concert films, which feature performances on stage, interspersed with interviews with a line of performers, as well as the audience who grew up with him. But Questlove is able to draw a rich and immersive story, making this documentary more than just a “jukebox film”.
“Music can change the world because it can change people”, said Bono U2. The truth is questionable, but watching the Harlem Cultural Festival, I dare say, “music can unite people”. The film tells us about the context behind its time setting. 1969 was a very tough year for the black community, especially those in Harlem. Racism is rampant, the effects of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. still felt, drugs are eating away at the younger generation, people are divided. Top Movie
Meanwhile, the various stories of musicians, from efforts to spread love, religion as a method of catharsis, merging musical genres without knowing barriers, and others, boil down to this unity. Questlove does not pick the story at random, but positions it as the precepts of unity, providing a big idea for the Summer of Soul narrative.
In addition to the action on stage, below the stage, hundreds of thousands of spectators who came also stole the attention. Pay attention to the demographics. Women, men, teenagers, adults, the elderly, even small children. The Woodstock audience seemed homogeneous in front of the Harlem Cultural Festival, which was also a place of cultural transition, when black pride grew, which was also evident from the makeup and clothing choices.
One of the most emotional moments comes when Nina Simone performs To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, while the film tells the story of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, the first two black people to be admitted to the University of Georgia. “There’s a world waiting for you. Yours is a quest that’s just begun”. Movie Review