As I tickled my laptop keyboard prepping the morning A+R newsletter with Andy, in the other room, Nina and I caught parts of Soul Power, the engrossing 2008 documentary on the three-day music celebration known as “Zaire 74.”
The concerts brought together some 80,000 fans to experience live African and African-American artists as seemingly disparate as Bill Withers and Miriam Makeba in the name of Black Power and, more specifically, the re-match between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
Every one of the performances—both on and off the stage—are a captivating testament to the power of culture. Yet one of the standouts for me is when Celia Cruz leads The Fania All Stars in a hypnotically exuberant rendition of “Quimbara.” This is a woman who was never shy about hitting the full range of her vocal powers, nor about brandishing her crown as Queen of Salsa, literally, in terms of hair pieces. The collection of falls she manages to balance up top is only equal to the rainbow of ruffles unfurling south of her knees.
I saw her live several times, thankfully. One of my all-time fave experiences was the June 2001 evening she sang at a major bash in a mansion that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana hired for the night that was originally built for a silent screen star.
It was one of the insane nights between the A-listers, the music and food and even the thousands of roses bobbing in the indoor pool. The grande dame of salsa brought the joint down as she sang her heart and soul out in a room that could hardly contain her personality. During much of her set, I found myself salsa dancing like mad with Domenico—and doing so less than an arm’s length of Señora Cruz and the band! It was just one of those nights.
Watching this video brought that incredibly special opportunity back to memory. But it also made me wish I could’ve been in that land far away now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, among the throng of revelers at that concert all those years ago.
Of course, I was scarcely age 6 at the time! Thank the tech gods for video on demand on YouTube. Enjoy.
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