Blues News

Zaire ’74 Music Festival

As promotion for one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century, The Rumble in the Jungle, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and record producer Stewart Levine conceived the legendary music festival Zaire ‘74 with some of the best from both worlds. 

THE SPINNERS, SOUL POWER (2008) DIRECTED BY JEFFREY LEVY-HINTE FILM COMPANY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

For  Consciousness

The festival was the first of its kind on the African continent, requiring the transfer of over 50,000 pounds of equipment to build the stage. It was conceived by Masekela and Levine as a unification between African and African American people, and an attempt to expand consciousness of African music to the world. Until recently, due to legal complications and involvements with other projects, recordings of the 17 acts from Zaire had remained unreleased. The performances of the American musicians, however, were immortalized in the documentaries When We Were Kings (1996) and Soul Power (2008) that chronicled the fight and the events surrounding it.

 

The Fight

The event was originally devised as a three day festival leading up to the title-defending fight between heavyweight boxers George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). When Foreman was unexpectedly injured during a training session, the fight had to be postponed for his recovery. The bout ended up happening six weeks later so the festival stood on its own, despite having most of the expected international audience all but eliminated. The televised broadcast of the fight garnered extraordinary viewership and profit for the promoters, but to the surprise of many, even after becoming its own spectacle, the festival had an unprecedented attendance of 80,000.

MUHAMMAD ALI, BILL WITHERS, DON KING, SOUL POWER (2008) DIRECTED BY JEFFREY LEVY-HINTE FILM COMPANY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

Woodstock in Kinshasa

The event coordinators pulled out all the stops for the programming, with B.B. King, Etta James, the Pointer Sisters, Bill Withers, the Spinners, and Sister Sledge, among the top billed and anticipated performances. While many of the attendees ended up being local, and mostly there for the home-grown acts like Miriam Makeba, Abumba Masikini, and Tabu Ley Rochereau, tremendous acts from the states also graced the stage over the three days the festival took place. Among the incredible performers were also James Brown and Celia Cruz with the Fania All-Stars, whose mambo was as deeply rooted in Africa as Brown’s funk and soul fusion, and likewise connected with the crowd in an unparalleled fervor of groove.

 

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