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AM I BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU

Director: GÖRAN HUGO OLSSON

SWEDEN • 2008 • COLOUR • DIGITAL • 85 MIN


HE MAY HAVE HAD A THING GOING ON WITH ‘MRS JONES’, BUT THERE’S A LOT MORE TO PHILLY SOUL SINGER BILLY PAUL THAN HIS CHART-TOPPING 1972 SINGLE, AS THIS ENGROSSING AND WORTHWHILE MUSIC DOC MAKES CLEAR.

This Swedish-made documentary follows the now seventy-something performer around old Philadelphia haunts and on tour in South America and Europe, allowing director Goran Hugo Olsson to interview the man and his collaborators — including legendary songwriter Kenny Gamble — and ponder quite why Billy Paul never went on to bigger things. As soul aficionados and pop historians alike will tell you, it didn’t quite happen for him, and the suggestion here is that his record company frightened off mainstream radio by following the classic ballad Me and Mrs Jones with a militant agit-groove follow-up, Am I black enough for you — a record which takes no prisoners, conjuring up images of direct action to frighten off the white folks, but more or less accusing the post-Panthers black community of complacency along the way. ‘Freedom?’ he sings, ‘My kids could dig it more if I could feed ’em.’

It almost goes without saying that social conscience-raising ’70s tracks have since won Paul a new audience among the current rap cognoscenti. A jazz inflected stylist rather than a gospel shouter, he’s still in remarkably good voice even now, as the film’s nimbly shot concert highlights make clear — though it’s the rich seam of archive material which might just have you seeking out his back catalogue. In the meantime, you can certainly feel the love in this affectionate portrait of a talent deserving wider recognition. — Trevor Johnston.

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