You see images of the James Brown strutting across the stage with all the swagger of a king; albeit the king of soul. Rather, he had by this time reached a point where he had transcended even that epithet to be called the godfather of soul.
State of the Art with Admire Kudita
The show’s breakout song is Soul Power and over an incessant rhythmic groove, soul brother number one does his trademark splits, shimmies and slides upon, which latterly the king of pop Michael Jackson would model his own famous choreography. The show seems anchored on his reputation as the supreme showman and master of stagecraft. Brown was peerless and remains peerless, as do many of the fellow artistes that made the triad of nights from September 22 to 24 in 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DRC).
Mama Africa Miriam Makeba sang the Click Song that night. Looking regal in her gown, and funky hairdo (the kind that looks like a Mohawk cut yet it is woven and likely to be seen on a Thandiswa Mazwai these days!) OK Jazz with Manu Dibango features in the concert DVD entitled Soul Power by Antidote Films.
As he walks on the streets of Kinshasa, he is the pied piper of African music. Kids follow him as he blows on his tenor sax.
Franco, Tabu Ley and Afrisa, Bill Withers, The Spinners, Big Black, Fania All Stars, featuring Celia Cruz, BB King, Zaiko Langa Langa, Trio Madjesi, Fania All-Stars, The Pointer Sisters, The JBs, James Brown, Les Stukas featuring Lita Bembo, Pembe Dance Troupe, The Jazz Crusaders, Bill Withers, Abeti, Franco, Big Black, Sister Sledge, The Spinners, Lloyd Price and Verckys complete the famous 1974 concert line-up. Now you will ask me who most of these artistes are. If you are of a certain age, you will not know a single one of them, but they represent some of the finest inflential and most bankable black artistes of the 1960s and 1970s.
Rumble in the jungle
The hype and the heat were on. Ali versus Foreman. The occasion was the touted fight between two gladiators of boxing. The world was baying for the fight.
Muhammad Ali was a motor mouth, spewing poetic prophecies about how his enemies would fall before him in the ring.
Every one had feared that Ali would have to eat humble pie considering he was clawing his way out of the doldrums of a ban for refusing conscription into the United States army. George Foreman was a beast of a man and Ali was 32 years old.
Life imitates Art
Sometimes the line between art and life is blurred. Today it is a pertinent question as to which influences the other.
Here is Ali’s poem before the Foreman fight, which he won using his rope a dope strategy of staying on the ropes absorbing enemies punches, while taunting him, thereby infuriating and wearing him out:
Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
Just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
Ali won the fight in the eigth round with a knockout punch. The world was stunned, but if they had read and believed Ali’s poems, they should not have.
Ali more than a sports man
Ali regained his crown and it was sweet vindication. It was payback to quote a Brown song of the same era. The US Supreme Court had overturned Ali’s boxing ban and sentence for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father . . . Shoot them for what? How can I shoot the poor people? Just take me to jail,” said Ali upon his banning.
Ali was an articulate black leader who understood how to parlay his celebrity to advance the cause of the oppressed people of the world. He was fearless and defied odds. But he was not peerless in his politics.
Bring it home
While as Brown sang in his civil rights anthem: “Say it loud, I am black and I am proud”, we should never think to conflate the transcendent idea of our icons with pseudo nationalism that creates conditions in which graft and avarice thrive at the expense of the same balck masses that the revolutionaries pretended to fight for.
Nay, we cannot conflate pan-Africanism, patriotism with rampant corruption!