“Summer of Soul” is a 2021 American music documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. This documentary deals with musical events related to black music and culture in New York City in 1969. Collectively that was known as the Harlem Cultural Festival.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.
In this documentary, we have the opportunity to see unseen and restored footage from the festival which lasted 6-weeks. Many people called this festival the Black Woodstock.
Despite the large attendance and impressive musical performances, this event was placed at the bottom of music history. At the stage of this festival were Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, etc.
Through a series of interviews, Ahmir reflects on the impact this festival had on the participants and visitors. As well as the growing struggle for human rights. During the summer of 1969, many considered Woodstock to be one of the biggest events in the history of popular music.
Many do not know that a few hundred kilometers away, African-Americans had their own festival, very significant in their history.
The fact is that this festival was covered by local television. But the recordings remained almost untouched in the basement for almost fifty years. After that, it seems as no one either knew or was not interested in getting involved with so many recordings.
Even the people who were performers at the festival look at these recordings with disbelief and awe. They know that this happened. But, when the evidence of such a cultural-historical and personal event disappears without a trace, doubts begin to own memories.
Firstly, this documentary vividly shows us how important history is for spiritual well-being. It also testifies to the power of music during social unrest. The author presents us with important musicians who perform and accept the importance of the event in which they participate.
Thompson allows certain significant events of the festival to run continuously and without comment. While some conversations go over the songs that are heard in the background. He also used a very good technique when we observe the viewer of these recordings and their honest reactions.
“Summer of Soul” is a film brimming with collective joy. First of all, people were happy because of the opportunity to see popular performers together. Then because of the atmosphere of the mass gathering. But also because they were aware that they were witnessing something bigger than themselves.
The film is an act of memory, analysis, and love for time, culture, and music. It also explores the importance of accepting truth and history in order to move forward. In a time when musical events have been canceled due to the pandemic, it reminds us that the joy of the musical community is one of the greatest human experiences.
During the interviews of the musicians, we also get information about their careers. How their style fits or differs from other artists of the time and how the music and success of each of them fits into the wider scope of music and culture.
For example, this festival was a turning point for Stevie Wonder to become more politically active. Precisely because of this, in the second part, the documentary offers the essential context of the happenings in Harlem.