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‘Summer of Soul’s Harlem Cultural Festival to be revived in 2023

The 'Harlem Festival of Culture' will bring live music to Marcus Garvey Park

By Joe Goggins

Sly Stone on stage at the Harlem Cultural Festival
Sly Stone was among the performers at the original event. (Photo: YouTube)

The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 – immortalised last year in an Oscar-winning documentary – will be revived next year.

‘Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)’ swept the documentary board during the 2022 film awards season, with director Questlove scooping a BAFTA and an Academy Award for his role in bringing long-lost footage of the New York event to life.

In the film, electrifying performances by the likes of Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder at the summer-long event are intercut with clips of demonstrations and interviews with protesters. The documentary accurately took the temperature of Harlem residents at a time when civil rights giant Martin Luther King, Jr. had not long since been assassinated and when the Apollo 11 mission to the moon was going ahead at extraordinary expense whilst the neighbourhood’s black community was facing poverty.

Now, it has been confirmed that the festival will be reimagined for a new instalment in 2023. Per Billboard, Musa Jackson, editor-in-chief of Ambassador Digital Magazine, is among the founders of the similarly-titled ‘Harlem Festival of Culture’ (HFC). Jackson attended the original event as a child, and features in ‘Summer of Soul’. 

“Being rooted, watered, and grown in this village of Harlem, I believe HFC is our moment to show the world the vibrancy of today’s Harlem — the music, the food, the look, all of it!” said Jackson. “The original event was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I will never forget. With this initiative, we want to create something that evokes that same sense of pride in our community that I felt on that special day in 1969. We want to authentically encapsulate the full scope: the energy, the music, the culture. We want people to understand that this festival is being built by the people who are from, live and work in this community.”

Meanwhile, one of the film’s producers, Joseph Patel, backed the festival’s revival. “One of the things we hoped would happen with ‘Summer of Soul’ is that it would open the door for other stories to be told, in all their forms, especially by people from Harlem. I couldn’t think of a better person to charge through than Musa, whose devoted roots in the community make him the perfect person to represent for Harlem.”

The inaugural festival proper will take place in the summer of 2023, at the same venue as the 1969 concert series, Marcus Garvey Park (then Mount Morris Park). Before then, myriad additional events covering a number of genres are planned, with initial details here.