Soundtrack to a Coup d'Etat

Belgium | 2024 | 150 min. | Johan Grimonprez

In this staggeringly informative video essay, learn how the CIA, the United Nations, jazz musicians, and seemingly the entire colonized world fought over the fate of midcentury Congolese independence and newly elected prime minister Patrice Lumumba.

Attend either screening for a chance to win tickets to a performance put on by the Seattle Jazz Fellowship at their new venue in Pioneer Square!

One of the odder twists in the centuries-long tragedy of European and American meddling in African affairs is the role played by jazz. The art form that has been called the U.S.’s greatest contribution to world music was a mainstay of Voice of America radio programming across the continent in 1960, as former colonies were breaking free from Europe. Cold War plots to preserve African dominance by northern superpowers (heaven forbid these upstart new nations should be allowed to keep their gold and oil) became an insidious bass line under the raucous and gripping melodies of Africa’s struggles for decolonization. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, Louis Armstrong’s October 1960 visit to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a triumph, but a deliberate distraction from the darker story of the rise and assassination, three months later, of independence leader/prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, jazz also fueled the resistance as drummer Max Roach (recall him from Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, screened at SIFF 2023) led Maya Angelou and others in a protest at the United Nations the following month. Music by Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, and other jazz demigods form a rich backdrop to Johan Grimonprez’s lavish and intricate documentary about the difficult birth of African independence.

—Gavin Borchert

  • Director: Johan Grimonprez
  • Principal Cast: Marie Daulne, In Koli Jean Bofane, Patrick Cruise O'Brien
  • Country: Belgium, France, Netherlands
  • Year: 2024
  • Running Time: 150 min.
  • Producer: Daan Milius, Rémi Grellety
  • Screenplay: Johan Grimonprez
  • Cinematographers: Jonathan Wannyn
  • Editors: Rik Chaubet
  • Awards: Sundance Film Festival 2024 (Special Jury Award for Cinematic Innovation)
  • Filmography: Shadow World (2016), Double Take (2009)
  • Language: English, French, Dutch, Russian
  • Has Subtitles: Yes
  • International Sales: Mediawan Rights