Presented in conjunction with the landmark "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match between famed pugilists Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Zaire '74 was a three-day music festival in Kinshasa that was organized by South African musician Hugh Masekela and American record producer Stewart Levine, and featured performances by such famed musicians as James Brown, Bill Withers, and B.B. King, among others. Many of the American musicians performing at Zaire '74 had been emboldened by the American Civil Rights movement, and saw their journey to Africa as a unique opportunity not just to perform for a new set of enthusiastic fans, but to explore their roots as well. However, while the forward-thinking promoters of Zaire '74 hired a talented team of documentary filmmakers to capture everything from the setup to the performances to everyday life in Kinshasa, the project ran into trouble when the Liberian investment group that financed the festival and film ran into some rather serious legal disputes. For the next three decades, the remarkable footage would sit untouched and unedited -- a valuable sociohistorical artifact seemingly forgotten, and left to succumb to the ravages of time. Later, in 1996, the rights were settled in order to help facilitate the completion of When We Were Kings, an Academy Award-winning documentary focusing on the very same Ali/Foreman match that took place alongside the Zaire '74 music festival. Recognizing the need to assemble the neglected Zaire '74 footage while it was still possible, When We Were Kings editor Jeffrey Levy-Hinte made it his own personal mission to see the long gestating project through to completion. The result is not simply a concert film featuring some of the most popular African and American musicians of the era, but also a pure cinéma vérité glimpse into a time when the musical crossover between the two nations was just beginning to emerge.
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