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Get up, stand up for Parkway’s Pan African docs

The Marleys mix it up with young fans in 'Africa Unite.'
Palm Pictures
The Marleys mix it up with young fans in “Africa Unite.”

The cause of unity is being celebrated in myriad ways on Sunday at the Parkway Theater, as the current Twin Cities Pan African Festival — saluting the African diaspora as well as the cities’ many African communities — brings together a trio of documentaries that combine music and activism.

One of the films, director Stephanie Black’s “Africa Unite” (screening at 8:15 p.m. Sunday), is itself a communal enterprise — a document of the 12-hour concert in 2005 that not only found the late Bob Marley’s three generations of family members joining forces onstage in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa, but drew 350,000 people to get up and stand up for Bob’s 60th birthday and the spirit of African unity.

Still more connections to draw: The five-day Pan African fest — whose opening night show by Habib Koité was previewed in MinnPost by Britt Robson (see link here) — will be staging its own marathon pro-unity concert in the parking lot next to the Nomad World Pub on the West Bank; scheduled acts include Minneapolitan hip-hopper M.anifest, native Liberian rapper Zhalman Harris (a.k.a. Z-PLUS), and the dance group Diaspora.

And did I mention that the three Parkway docs collectively double as a preview of another music and film festival, that being the ninth annual edition of Sound Unseen?

“I’d like to mature the festival this year,” says Sound Unseen’s new director, Rick Hansen. He credits for inspiration the efforts of the Pan African fest’s co-producers Rachel Lee Joyce and legendary music-booker Steve McClellan, the latter of whom founded the nonprofit Diverse Emerging Music (DEMO), which presents the festival.

“The full day of world music on film that the Pan African fest is doing will help pave the way for the new Sound Unseen,” Hansen reports. “[The fest] will include quite a bit of world music [documentary] where past years have primarily focused on rock ‘n’ roll and pop and heavy metal [films]. We’d like to globalize the festival.”

Still, thinking global and acting local, Hansen announces that Sound Unseen’s opening night attraction will hit close to home: a screening of “Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes” — in advance of its broadcast on PBS’s “American Masters” series in January — at the Riverview Theater on Oct. 23. (The rest of Sound Unseen’s films will unspool at the St. Anthony Main multiplex.)

As for Sunday’s African music docs, which kick off at 5:45 p.m. with “Hip-Hop Colony,” tracing the evolution of the titular genre in Kenya, the highlight is a 25-year-old French documentary about Nigeria’s Afro-beat pioneer, activist and all-around legend Fela Kuti.

Splitting its time between blistering concert footage and its subject’s radically political ideology, “Music is the Weapon” opens with Kuti’s thrillingly immodest boast that he’ll be president of his country within a matter of years. While seeking that lofty goal in the midst of violent opposition from the Nigerian government and other fearful forces, Kuti at least succeeds in proving himself the king of African pop in concert scenes where he performs wearing only face paint and tight blue bikini briefs, playfully stalking the stage with a mic in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Late in the film, Kuti’s fiercely anti-West, anti-colonial comments leave no doubt as to why he was both loathed and revered.

Out-of-print DVD copies of “Music is the Weapon” fetch between $40 and $120 on Amazon. But, in the spirit of non-capitalist unity, of what Kuti would call M.O.P. (Movement of the People), the Pan African screening of the film is free!

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