Oscars 2022: Questlove joins CAPA alma mater class to share ‘Summer of Soul’ lessons, give advice
The list, however, is incomplete without two alumni who became hip-hop kings: CAPA is where Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson formed The Roots.
Knowing this, the excitement was palpable when the CAPA students found out that Questlove would be joining the class for a virtual tour.
The students had finished watching his directorial debut, “Summer of Soul (…Or, When Revolution Couldn’t Be Televised)”, and had taken a lesson from a program based on the documentary.
The film centers on the largely forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival, which was filmed at Marcus Garvey Park (formerly Mount Morris Park) in Harlem, New York, during the summer of 1969. The event celebrated the history , culture and black fashion over the course of six weeks.
At the start of his chat with CAPA students, the Grammy-winning drummer and DJ told the origin story of The Roots, who performed at school over 30 years ago.
“The Roots kind of started with a lie,” Questlove told the students with a chuckle. “There was a choir that I was madly in love with. I caught myself telling a lie like, ‘Yes, I have a rap group. She said to me: “Rap group with whom?” And I was like, ‘Him!’ And ran up to Tariq like, ‘Whatever you do, if anybody asks you, we’re a rap group right now.’ And Tariq was like, ‘OK,’ and literally that’s how The Roots was born.”
Storyteller Spotlight: Questlove calls Oscar nominee ‘Summer of Soul’ a movie his younger self wishes he had seen
Here is an excerpt from Questlove’s Q&A with CAPA students.
Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Marcel, creative writing major: As artists and creatives, we are constantly reminded that pursuing a career is going to be difficult. What advice would you give as young artists?
quest love: You have to be really committed and in love with your art to the point of being willing to sacrifice yourself for it. I find it very ironic that as a filmmaker, everything I imagined happening is happening to me right now. Even though I made 17 records — I’m one of the people who brought you “Hamilton” — my resume was pretty cool. But I find it odd that at 51, I say to myself: “What would I say to myself at 19 one year after obtaining my CAPA? That your magic won’t even begin to blossom for three years. decades from now.”
Sophia, dance major: What lessons do you want the public to take away [Summer of Soul]?
quest love: I’m glad you asked that question. Because I too am looking for what is to go. And the conclusion, for me, is that stories matter. When we describe what the last half of the 1960s was like, when you think of hippies, fashion and all that stuff, Woodstock is your go-to. This movie was not allowed to tell that story. This should be a teachable lesson in listening to people who are marginalized and don’t necessarily have a seat at the table. That’s what I want people to take away — that this festival was organized as a way to heal people from pain. And this film was made to shine a light on a marginalized people. Hopefully more will come after this.
The students also shared their takeaways from “Summer of Soul”:
Sophie, visual arts major: I think it was really cool to be able to see this performance that was hidden from everyone… and to be able to understand the cultural impact that it really had on the time and the place, even if we don’t don’t talk about it, mainly because it wasn’t focused on white. I think it was really interesting to go and see that point of view and see it come to fruition.
Marcel, creative writing major: lack of people forever – but especially during this time. We are surrounded by such antagonism that they used this festival to release all that pent up pressure and tension. The Harlem Renaissance was an outlet for black oppression. This festival was an outlet for black liberation.
Raymond, singer: Music and black people just like to mix. What makes me happy is that it was a giant music festival. It was the only thing you could rely on to bring people together, especially with all that was going on: not just the issues outside the movement with the assassinations or the war in Vietnam, but also in the civil rights movement. There were non-violent groups and violent groups, and they clashed because they didn’t know the right way to fight for freedom. So instead of just focusing on that, we came together for the music. Instead of deciding if we should fight or not, we wanted to have a little fun.
After the engaging conversation, Questlove left the creative youth class with a little advice: “Live in your heart for as long as you can. The thing that got you into music or got you to dance or got you to writing, dreaming — all of those things are super important. Don’t settle for anything sure. Follow your instincts and keep your passion as long as you can.
“Summer of Soul” is the first official project under the Onyx Collective brand for color makers and underrepresented creatives. This is now streaming on Hulu and is available on DVD.
Learn more about Journeys in Film’s Summer of Soul program here.
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