The sheer calibre of the line-up at the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 is incredible: Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone to name but a few. It goes without saying that this never-before-seen footage cannot be missed but the real question is how this festival made from the stuff of legends didn’t become legendary in the first place.
This momentous celebration of Black history, culture and fashion in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) went largely unnoticed by the wider population: remarkably, no one wanted the footage and so it sat in a basement for fifty years, until now. In his directorial debut, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson transports us back to ‘Black Woodstock’ and 1969, deftly recognising and revealing the astonishing beauty and talent in these performances and this moment, whilst also maintaining a real feeling of awareness of the modern day.
Summer of Soul feels timeless, specific to those weeks in Harlem in 1969, and incredibly relevant to the modern day, all at the same time. Thompson goes some way to righting a historical wrong in the erasure of this wonderful event, and it is our privilege to watch this unearthed gem of music (and cultural) history.
“There was ‘a moment so striking and rich with power at the center of Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’s Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) that, while watching it, I actually forgot to breathe […] It goes beyond the category of mere singing, it’s an expression of grief, tenderness, community and healing.’ 5 stars.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian