Celia Cruz & Fania All-Stars rehearse “Guantanamera” in Zaire, September 1974

On November 6, 2011 by Will Hermes

In September, the Fania All-Stars with their newest member, Celia Cruz, got on a plane to Zaire to play a huge music festival scheduled in Kinshasa around Muhammad Ali’s fight with George Foreman, the much ballyhooed “Rumble In The Jungle.” The festival would be headlined by Soul Brother #1, James Brown, and broadcast around the world, along with the match.

Unfortunately, as the musicians found out in-flight, Foreman got injured in training, and the fight had to be postponed — for an entire month, it turned out. But the music festival went on as planned. It was filmed, and although it wasn’t broadcast after all, the footage finally surfaced in the 2009 documentary Soul Power.

This is an outtake: Celia Cruz, with Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, and Héctor Lavoe, rehearses the folk song “Guantanamera”— about a peasant girl from Guantánamo — in an empty stadium. They turn it into a pan-cultural anthem: Afro-Cuban music going home for a long-overdue visit.

They also played a private concert for President Mobutu, apparently.

Trombonist Willie Colón is conspicuously absent here. He never got on the flight. As he tells it, he heard God speak to him while he was waiting to board the plane at Kennedy, instructing him not to go. He told Jerry Masucci he was going to the bathroom, walked out of the terminal, and caught a cab home, never bothering to retrieve his bag. He used the time to begin work on a new album, which paired him with a young singer, Rubén Blades. It was a very good match.

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