In 2014, Daptone Records, founded in 2001 by Bosco Mann (a.k.a Gabe Roth) and Neal Sugarman, sold out three nights at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City. The concerts were dubbed the Super Soul Revue and boasted performances from soul, funk, and R&B powerhouses like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley, Antibalas, The Budos Band, and the Como Mamas. For those in attendance, the performances were electrifying, but thankfully for the rest of us, documentarians Cory Bailey and Jeff Broadway (Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton) chronicled all three historic nights in the concert-documentary Living on Soul.
The film, although irresistibly ear-catching and inspiring, is also bittersweet: both Jones and Bradley lost battles with cancer less than a year apart after experiencing a remarkable surge in popularity later in life. (Jones’ was in her forties while Bradley was in his sixties when their first albums, released by Daptone Records, dropped in 2002 and 2011 respectively.) But Living on Soul is a testament to Bradley and Jones’ passion, unparalleled vocal dynamism, and tireless dedication to music.
In this interview, Broadway reflects on his time with the Family Daptone and the power of soul.
What drew you to this project?
Broadway: We were originally hired to go on the road with Daptone Records across Europe to film their 2014 Super Soul Revue. While we were at Glastonbury, Neal Sugarman received word that they’d been invited to play the Apollo. We knew we had a concert film in the making on our hands, and turned our focus to that goal. We’ve both been fans of soul music and its aesthetic since we were kids listening to Motown, Stax, and Atlantic records with our folks. We felt like we had to make a film in the tradition of Soul Power or The Last Waltz, and that’s what we set out to do.
Daptone Records is more than a label: it’s a family. What was it like to be welcomed into this tight-knit group during such a landmark time for the label?
Broadway: The context and time during which we made this film was certainly special. We’re very grateful that Neal and Gabe Roth (Bosco Mann) trusted us with this project and supported us along the way. There were a lot of moving pieces and opportunities for things to go the wrong way, and we’re just so pleased the film is out and was finished the way we’d envisioned it.
When viewing the footage, who blew you away the most, not as a documentarian, but as an audience member and music lover?
Broadway: Beyond the powerhouses that Sharon and Charles were, the Como Mamas were breathtaking in that context. For them to come out as unknowns to probably a majority of that audience and sing a cappella for thirty minutes at the Apollo was special.
The film is bittersweet knowing that both Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley have passed away from cancer. What’s it like viewing the film now knowing that two inimitable artists are no longer with us?
Broadway: It’s tough. Both of them passing during the making of this film was certainly unforeseen and very sad. We’re eternally bummed that Sharon and Charles never got to see it finished, as well. That said, we think the film is that much more magical now. We’re proud to have played a small part in preserving their memory and memorializing them in film.
For many of the interviewees, soul and funk aren’t just music, it’s a way of life. What do you think makes it so powerful?
Broadway: These artists definitely live and breathe the music. So many of them do other things to earn income so they can play the music. It’s a passionate gang of people, and their collective musical output has been so consistently awesome. They are true performers and artists in an era when anyone can become famous and cult of Instagram personality dominates. An era our friend Dam-Funk calls the “Buster Era” – the Family Daptone are the anti-busters in an otherwise “Buster Era.” We’re thankful for that.
Living on Soul is out now on VOD.
Enjoy the trailer below: