A top-tier documentary from musician/filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson deftly coalesces previously unseen footage from the six-week Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969.
Summer of Soul should resonate for many over half a century later in the creative weaving of black history, music and fashion and recollections not just topical but of social significance.
Attendee voice-overs and archival clips accompany an ebullient immediacy of what proves to be more than an exciting concert experience. The timing of the series worked against it beginning around the famous Apollo 11 lunar landing, and the upstate New York Woodstock festival occurring less than a month later.
The sound and images not only have an impact on pop culture; part of an ameliorative process to control the simmering effects of oppression after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 300,000 folks attended the free series held at what is now Marcus Garvey Park.
An amazing line-up include a teenage Stevie Wonder (a talking head), BB King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Nina Simone who really keeps an audience enrapt with an unassailable artistry that translates with audacious uplift.
Being a part of what the Black Panthers did to help organizers with authorities closely monitoring turned out to be much more than the music. Notions of liberty, pride and unity are felt when looking at how certain funding (read: space) might have been distributed.
It’s hard to miss the inextricable political struggles when not being floored by a rendition of a huge hit by the Fifth Dimension narrated by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. or a deeply wrenching duet from Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson.
The enormity of life can be countered with the likes of gospel music as eclectic groups like Sly and the Family Stone instill a potent barnstorming prowess. In Thompson’s heady handling this Summer is soulful and surreal in many ways in harmony with an iconic zeitgeist. Though more of a medley than some may hope in what is conveyed by the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and his dad, a bracing context from Vietnam to narcotics is rendered in all of its free-flowing rhythmic glory.