The Summer of Soul or when the revolution was not televised

In the summer of 1969 while Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apolo 11 stepped on the surface of the Moon for the first time and the world had its ears tuned to the pinnacle of hippie culture, the art and music festival of Woodstock, in Harlem, New York, an event happened that brought together the cream of African-American culture. A mix of jazz, blues, soul, gospel, R&B and pop.

For six weekends the Harlem Cultural Festival brought together more than 300,000 people at Mount Morris Park – today Marcus Garvey Park – who were able to see artists like Stevie Wonder, B. B. King, The 5th Dimension, The Chambers Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Max Roach, The Staples Singers, Nina Simone, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Hugh Masekela Y David Ruffin.

Some have called it the “Black Woodstock” and after half a century of being kept this fragment of history finally saw the light in the documentary Summer of Soul (When the revolution could not be televised).

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson He is best known as the drummer of the hip hop band The Roots, musical director of The Tonight Show con Jimmy Fallon and occasionally also the author of books on music and creativity. Summer of Soul (When the revolution could not be televised (available on the platform Star+) represents his directorial debut. Thompson has the opportunity to tell a story about African American music in 1969. He had access to more than 150 hours of material, which thanks to producer Hal Tulchin was recorded in its entirety. Thompson was responsible for dusting off this invaluable musical cinematographic document by exchanging his role as curator, musician, DJ and becoming a historian and scholar to tell us this piece of musical history.

In 1969, African American music was in a deep transition point. The murders of Martin Febher King Jr. Y Malcolm X they made artists politicize and seek a new identity where blackness was celebrated and the Afrocentric became crucial in the discourse of new artists. African American music was beginning to move away from the optimism and vibrancy of the sound of Motown The Stax, of those melodies popularized by groups like The Temptations, The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles with perfectly rehearsed choreographies, to go back to the origins and enhance the idea of ​​“Black is beautiful”.

“Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud” era el himno celebratorio de James Brown, While Sly & The Family Stone It sought to connect us with the roots of Africa and at the same time present a multiracial and integrated vision.

The presentations of Stevie Wonder, The Chambers Brothers and the choreographies of The 5th Dimension with “Age of Aquarius” of the musical “Hair”They warm the spirits of the festival. It is the presentation of Mahalia Jackson the one that truly takes the film with a sublime interpretation of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, the favorite song of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. From the hand of Mavis Staples, from The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson It shows us why he is one of the most important voices of the 20th century and in the history of music. The civil rights struggle in the United States, the history of African Americans, and the weight of religious gospel are intertwined in this interpretation.

Mavis Staples y Mahalia Jackson interpretando “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. Foto: Cortesía Searchlight Pictures

In Summer of Soul the sounds of Motown, from funk of Sly and the Family Stone, the blues of B. B. King Y Nina Simone. The Latin music of the Cuban is also crossed Mongo Santa Maria and the Nuyorican congalero Ray Barretto with its fusion of boogaloo, Latin soul and a precursor of salsa that would also explode in later years with other artists from the famous label Fania Records.

The Harlem Cultural Festival it was an event with many political, cultural and musical crossovers. The event was held under the auspices of the local government and Black panthers They assisted as security personnel for the event. Several generations of African Americans gathered in one place, with a community and social spirit.

Thompson shows us a portrait of Harlem in 1969 with all the social disparities of that time and the economic inequalities present in these communities. Summer of Soul is an African American history class. It is the portrait of a particular cultural moment, a breeding ground where different nationalities, social and musical movements also converged that are fundamental to understanding the movements that occurred in subsequent decades.

Photo: Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

Thompson is our history and music teacher in this cinematic experience that every music lover must experience.

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Antonio Becerril Romo

Operations Coordinator of El Economista online

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