Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Movie Review: Thunder Soul

Thunder Soul is the story of a reunion 30 years in the making. It's a story of music. It's a story of race. It's a story of culture and fashion, and a story of hopes and dreams. It's a story about the power of education.

In the late 60s and early 70s, funk was a powerful influence in music. The stage band of Kashmere High School in Houston, TX, came onto the scene bringing that funk with them. Playing far above the level most people would find believable, they won multiple national competitions, recorded any number of albums, toured Japan and Europe, and changed a generation at their school.

In 2008, they gathered again, putting on a reunion concert to honor Professor Conrad Johnson, the band director responsible for making it all happen. This film chronicles that reunion, but it also takes us back into a world of their youth, a world in the midst of war and fresh out of race riots, a world awash in afros and bell bottom jeans, a world of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. We learn the stories of kids growing up in the hood, kids heading down dark paths only to find their meaning in life through the mentorship of Johnson. We see how this band became a family to so many kids struggling to come of age in a difficult time.

We also see just what a difference music can make in the life of kids and the culture of a school. Unfortunately, we also see the dark side - the place where jealousy and pettiness on the part of administrators can eventually destroy that which is so good (and yes, I've seen that happen to good friends of mine).

Thunder Soul is a moving example of the power of mentors, of the need for arts in education, and of the ability for young people to do so much more than we usually think they can. It is full of great music and interesting characters; best of all, these are real people sharing their real lives, and not actors living out a feel-good script. It's well worth watching; in many ways the answer to last year's Waiting for Superman.

And, of course, not only is it worth watching; it's worth a listen, since it's really about the music these kids, now adults, create. Exciting, fun, full of pizzazz and humor and life - it's enough to make you smile, just a little more hopeful that there is still good in the world.

Thunder Soul opens September 23 in select theaters - check their website for a screening near you.

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