Alive at the time or not, when asking someone about the summer of 1969, they'll either sing you a Brian Adams song, tell you it was the time when man first walked on the moon, or talk to you about the summer of love and a little music festival that took place in upstate New York just 40 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock. But they weren't the only events of significance. If you were a black or Puerto Rican citizen of Manhattan at the time, the six-week long Harlem Cultural Festival was also taking place, featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, and the incomparable Nina Simone, just to name a few. The footage from the time was disregarded, believed to be that of an unimportant and insignificant event for decades - that i, until Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson set out to prove them wrong and educate the public on just what happened that summer over 50 years ago.
SWITCH: 'SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)' TRAILER
Featuring footage of monumental musical performances and the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson intercut with interviews from those who were there as spectators or participants, 'Summer of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)' breaks down the historical and social significance of that time, brought about by the festival, as well as the impact on the black community of the era through to the current day.
What seemed like an inconsequential yet popular and utterly fantastic musical festival at the time was actually a melting pot of style, fashion, culture, spirituality and freedom. Where men wore everything from suits to Dashikis - with some experiencing or witnessing this African garment for the first time, as the community finally felt free to express their heritage for the first time. And men and women were starting to wear their hair naturally, giving rise to the awesome afro. The power and illumination that came from these small yet momentous rebellions in the wake of the Civil Rights movement were huge. This was "the year the Negro died and Black was born." It was a female writer at the New York Times that wrote an 11-page memo to staff telling them to no longer use the term "Negro", with every other publication to follow. Finally, the identity of being black was to become so much more than what was perceived through the acute prism of white ignorance and prejudice. The culture wasn't just being experienced in so many new dimensions; it was growing and expanding. The American and African sides of these people were merging to create something powerful and extraordinary, and all through music and simply being together as a unified community.
The American and African sides of these people were merging to create something powerful and extraordinary, and all through music and simply being together as a unified community.
'Summer of Soul' is merely a window into an extraordinary moment in time, the effects of which are still being felt. What was once lost to the public lived on in the people who were there who got to experience the magic - and now we, half a century later, are lucky enough to see it for the first time, with new eyes and an appreciation and renewed understanding for what was unfolding. Just sit back, listen with your heart and mind as well as your ears and let the sunshine in.