Summer of Soul is set to return to Harlem in 2023

HARLEM, Manhattan – A Harlem group travels back to the future to reinvent a 1969 series of concerts that brought the community together in what is now Marcus Garvey Park.

A film about the shows, titled Summer of Soul, won an Oscar for best documentary last month, which is all the more remarkable given that it was the first film to be directed by musician and producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

Now the film has inspired the idea for a new Harlem cultural festival planned for the summer of 2023.

That’s more than a year away, but details are coming together in the same place where history was made more than half a century ago.

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Shakespeare wrote, “What is past is the prologue,” meaning that the story can set the stage for what follows; and that’s the idea behind another Summer of Soul in Harlem.

Musa Jackson was a child of 5 when he attended the original and saw the late Nina Simone take the stage.

“Are you ready blacks?” she asked the more than 50,000 people that summer day long ago. “Are you ready?”

Jackson never forgot that.

“It was a memory that’s in my brain that’s been in my brain my whole life,” he said.

Jackson shared those memories in Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary.

“This film absolutely changed my life,” he said. “I’ve obviously received so much love from the community and people from all over the world.”

And that got him thinking that maybe the original concert series portrayed in the film could be reinterpreted for the 21st century.

He enlisted the help of two partners and together they founded the Harlem Festival of Culture.

“This is going to be a real collaboration,” said veteran community organizer Nikoa Evans. “And we’re engaging with the community in a very fundamental way to get their insights and their desires because this is truly their festival.”

They will be joined by Yvonne McNair, a veteran live event producer.

“We hire sponsors,” McNair said. “We have partners that we’re talking to to help with that.”

It is planned to recruit entertainers from the area.

“We plan on hiring talent that has come out of Harlem,” McNair said. “Because we know Harlem means so much to them.”

RELATED | Questlove attends alma mater’s class to share lessons from Summer of Soul and offer advice

Jackson said he plans to ask Questlove to participate “in any way possible”. In the meantime, a number of events have already started to draw attention to these ambitious plans for next summer.

As the documentary makes clear, the original Summer of Soul was about much more than just music, as 1969 was an era change in the Black community.

The assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. occurred just a year before the event, and riots had erupted in several major cities.

“A lot of those issues, a lot of the issues are still going on today,” McNair said. “These are still things we need to address.”

And that’s why the organizers consider the right timing for the return of this festival.

“We want to make an impression,” Evans said. “And create a legacy that will last.”

Copyright © 2022 All rights reserved. Summer of Soul is set to return to Harlem in 2023

Dais Johnston

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