The Jackson 5 in Africa | July 15, 2009


the jackson 5 in africa, michael jackson, imagenation, film, senegal, africa, video
Last night Imagenation premiered “The Jackson 5 in Africa,” directed by the late Mamadou Johnny Sekka, a never-before-seen documentary chronicling the J-5’s concert tour to Senegal in 1974. It was the single most fascinating thing I’ve seen in the last ten years -- equal parts propaganda film, time capsule, and jam session – featuring the entire Jackson clan and the “spiritual…spirited…and rhythmic” people of Senegal. If you didn't see it, the film's West Coast premiere is at the Los Angeles Downtown Film Festival in August.

Imagenation Founder Moikgantsi Kgama got her hands on the film from an African-American investor who, in the 1980s, acquired a 16mm print of the original in exchange for a rough cut diamond. The film was funded by a group of African investors looking to bridge the gap between Africans and African-Americans, using the J-5 as the catalyst. They eventually ran out of funds and never finished the movie; the picture and, occasionally, sound fall out at points and the whole thing ends abruptly at 50 minutes.

But there was such a strong vibe in the audience last night—you might call it love—that I’m certain we would’ve continued staring at that white screen and singing along to J-5 jams as long as the soundtrack kept running.

Just seconds off the plane, the Jacksons are surrounded by sabar dancers in regal attire, Randy joining in as the narrator cites his ability to pick up the rhythm as “something basic” in the African personality. It continues on in that peculiar mysticism as the family tours the National Palace, a primary school, and the Medina, where candle lights in tin-roofed huts are likened to "twinkling stars" in the night sky.

The boys were captured at a rare point in their lives—not yet jaded by fame, still young enough to be awestruck by skyscrapers in the capital and slave dungeons on Gorée Island. Decked in royal beads, they move with a grace and carriage typically reserved for older men. Michael, barely taller than the podium, honoring President Leopold Senghor with their latest gold record. Joe Jackson receives the Medal of the Lion for his contributions to culture, only the second African-American after Duke Ellington to receive the honor.

What was evident from their first sold out performance at Demba Diop stadium, was not only how wide the J-5's international appeal was, but also how plugged in to contemporary African-American culture the 1970's Senegalese—and indeed all Africans—were. From their clothes to their style, hair, and swagger, the Africans could have been jamming in a stadium in Detroit.

For all the love in the room last night, the message was clear: Africa is in need of her displaced persons if she is to regain her status in the world.

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