Johan Grimonprez's Soundtrack to a Coup d’État: A Jazz-Driven Exploration of Political Turbulence

Published February 9, 2024

Reflecting on the concept that history might not repeat but instead rhyme, as noted by Mark Twain, we delve into the essence of Johan Grimonprez's Soundtrack to a Coup d’État, a Belgian filmmaker and multimedia artist's intricate and musically-charged political essay. This work transports its audience back to the year 1960, a period marred by its geopolitical storms, and specifically spotlights Patrice Lumumba's ascension in the Congo amidst the complex cultural diplomacy initiated by the United States through its jazz emissaries.

Jazz as a Political Instrument

In a unique twist, the movie interweaves the narratives of legendary jazz figures such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, Abbey Lincoln, and Max Roach, who were dispatched around the globe in an attempt to cast a softer light on American foreign policy during the Cold War era. These musicians are portrayed not merely as performers but as pseudo-political figures, even hinting at Gillespie's mock presidential aspirations.

A Cinematic Chronicle of Cold War Intrigues

The film stretches over 150 minutes and dives deeply into the struggles of the Cold War, especially as African nations, freshly liberated, joined the United Nations. It paints a vivid picture of the West's grappling with the ripples caused by independence movements, highlighting how music became a resistance anthem, with artists like Roach and Lincoln echoing the African bloc's defiant stance at the UN following the assassination of Lumumba.

Global Conspiracies and Historical Insights

Grimonprez brilliantly amalgamates a variety of historical materials, ranging from official archives to news footage, interspersed with powerful quotations. The documentary reveals the West's clandestine machinations and their puppeteering attempts in Congo, all stemming from a deep-seated desire to control global influence and resources, as evidenced by the covert operations surrounding uranium mining for atomic weapons.

Soundtrack to a Coup d’État captivates by merging its informative content with an unconventional narrative style. This premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival has offered a detailed inspection into Belgium's colonialist past, presenting it through the eyes of a Belgian artist determined to confront historical realities head-on.

Grade: B+

history, jazz, politics