The Life and Times of an African Musical IconMichael E. Veal
Musician, political critic, and hedonist, international superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti created a sensation throughout his career. In his own country of Nigeria he was simultaneously adulated and loathed, often by the same people at the same time. His outspoken political views and advocacy of marijuana smoking and sexual promiscuity offended many, even as his musical brilliance enthralled them. In his creation of afrobeat, he melded African traditions with African-American and Afro-Caribbean influences to revolutionize world music.
Although harassed, beaten, and jailed by Nigerian authorities, he continued his outspoken and derisive criticism of political corruption at home and economic exploitation from abroad. A volatile mixture of personal characteristicscharisma, musical talent, maverick lifestyle, populist ideology, and persistence in the face of persecutionmade him a legend throughout Africa and the world. Celebrated during the 1970's as a musical innovator and spokesman for the continent's oppressed masses, he enjoyed worldwide celebrity during the 1980's and was recognized in the 1990's as a major pioneer and elder statesman of African music. By the time of his death in 1997 from AIDS-related complications, Fela had become something of a Nigerian institution.
In Africa, the idea of transnational alliance, once thought to be outmoded, has gained new currency. In African-America, during a period of increasing social conservatism and ethnic polarization, Africa has re-emerged as a symbol of cultural affirmation. At such a historical moment, Fela's music offers a perspective on race, class, and nation on both sides of the Atlantic. As Professor Veal demonstrates, over three decades Fela synthesized a unique musical language while also clearingif only temporarilya space for popular political dissent and a type of counter-cultural expression rarely seen in West Africa. In the midst of political turmoil in Africa, as well as renewal of pro-African cultural nationalism throughout the diaspora, Fela's political music functions as a post-colonial art form that uses cross-cultural exchange to voice a unique and powerful African essentialism.
"Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon is both timely and bold.... (It) has the potential of becoming a classic of African biography. It is written in an accessible style, rich in local color and musically informed.... Veal's study is not the first book written of Fela. But it is by far the best."
—Veit Erlman, Chair of Music History in the School of Music, University of Texas, Austin
"I saw Fela perform in Nigeria nearly 30 years ago, and it remains my most powerful musical experience to this day. Michael Veal has written a fully comprehensive book on the life, music, and times of Nigeria's outstanding pop star, one which brings this complicated and controversial man back to life. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Fela."
—Dr. John Collins, Professor of Music at University of Ghana, Legon, and author of Musicmakers of West Africa and West African Pop Roots
"(Veal) has demonstrated a tremendous command of the literature, not merely on Fela and the Nigerian music scene, but the Nigerian context in which Fela grew and matured, the Afro-Diasporic musical context, and the kind of global/world music framework that has yet to appreciate Fela's contribution. This is more than a biography of one of Nigeria's most famous sons, it is a biography of an era, from the kind of pre-independence political and aesthetic culture of an anti-colonial elite through the trials and tribulations of the dictatorships of the late '80s and all of the '90s. Veal's command of the material is impressive, his knowledge of the music and music scene irreplaceable, and his contextualization of Fela's life essential to understanding the role that his music played."
—William Eric Perkins, editor of Droppin' Science and Senior Research Scholar with the African American Literacy and Culture Project
"This is a well-written, well-researched, and highly entertaining biography."
"...a fascinating and thorough contextual biography...in his compelling book, Veal has produced a distinctive and thoroughly engaging analysis of afrobeat and its historical, ideological and material underpinnings. He is to be congratulated."
"This exhaustive and objective profile, written by a Yale ethnomusicology professor, examines the Nigerian superstar's life and work from 1938 to his death in 1997....Veal has taken on the staggering task of portraying a musician/politician/rebel, and he executes it well."
"...the most in-depth portrait so far."
—The Utne Reader
"Michael Veal's book presents a vibrant multifaceted portrait of, as the subtitle explains, 'an African musical icon'... With its exhaustive discography, archival photos, and vivid descriptions of Fela's life in performance—both on stage and off—this book provides a fantastic primer on one of the more intriguing musical personalities of the twentieth century."