Summer of Soul

In cinemas and on Disney+.

Directed by Questlove this documentary tells the story of the Harlem Music Festival. Staged over five weekends during July 1969 in Mount Morris Park, Harlem. In a world where Woodstock was happening 100 miles away and man would walk on the moon during it, this festival was as culturally significant to those in Harlem. However, while those events have become part of cultural history, this, while filmed for television, was locked away for 50 years until finding its way into the hands of Questlove, who finally tells its story.

A bit like a musical festival itself, this fascinating documentary has some acts and stories that appealed more than others. What it always does however, is provide a gloriously colourful snapshot of black life in 1969 Harlem and the wider United States.

There are a range of intriguing insights and powerful moments, none more so than a section where the Reverand Jesse Jackson talks about culture, black pride and the death of Martin Luther King.

Of course, it’s not a music documentary without the music and there is plenty of that, it is predominantly a music film rather than a focus on talking heads. Stevie Wonder, BB King, Gladys Knight, David Ruffin, Sly and the Family Stone among the better known names, but we also see what, to me at least, is a selection of less familiar names, with different music styles and messages.

Amongst all of this are the vibrant colours and styles of Harlem that provide the backdrop.

What is incredible is that such a story was put in a box and forgotten and that in itself raises questions of how and why as the films subtitle suggests. That said, it’s a joy to see it now.

Summer of Soul is a fascinating snapshot taken at a turning point in recent history. Filled with great music, wonderful colour and interesting insight. All brought to life by this enjoyable documentary.

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