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Fela: Life And Times Of An African: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon [Kindle Edition]

Michael Veal
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 characteristics charisma, musical talent, maverick lifestyle, populist ideology, and persistence in the face of persecution made 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 clearing if only temporarily a 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. Author note: Michael E. Veal is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Yale University.
In addition to being thoroughly grounded in the literature on Nigeria, African music, and the world music scene, he played as a guest saxophonist with Fela and his band Egypt 80, and has conducted interviews with Fela himself, and with his colleagues and other Nigerian musicians.

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"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." --MultiCultural Review "...a fascinating and thorough contextual 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." --Popular Music "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." --Publishers Weekly

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6074 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press (19 May 2000)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #866,474 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very happy Afrobeat recipient! 25 May 2011
After a ton of research, I bought this book for a friend whose extensive knowledge of music in general and Afrobeat in particular is intimidating, to say the least (in a nice way, he's a lovely man!). You can imagine my anxiety as I handed it over worrying that a) he already had it and b) he already knew much of what was contained. THEN imagine my happiness that neither of those things were true, and that he LOVED it and devoured it in the space of a week.
I'd read on quite a few Afrobeat fora that this was the ultimate Fela book, and the feedback I received from the birthday boy definitely backs that up! Enjoy.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Can't Dash Me My Property 3 Jan. 2002
As I sit back to review this mind races back and forth, I'm left in a dilema of where to start from.Micheal has done justice to a legends life - Disticntly and accurately describing not only the events and lifestyle of the High preist but also giving his readers an understanding into the reason for the lyrics of Fela. The fact that Fela was a man with balanced views who had no problems of telling 'it' as he saw, means his legacy needs to be lived on - it must to be passed onto generations to come, and Micheal has done this well in this extremely well documented memoir/testimonial of a legend. This will definately go on to be a Bible for every Kalakutacian. A great resources of information for music lovers,a strong reference for nigerians and africans outside the diaspora...a fact book for Fela's inconsiderate critics.
Just say Yeah,Yeah!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars He Deserved Better 28 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Given the limited choice of books about Fela, I thought I'd start with the most "serious" one.

It turned out to be the the Master's thesis of an ethnomusicologist, which sounds fine in principle, but the reality did not match my expectations. There was precious little musicology in evidence, but lots of dense, turgid text about his attitudes to gender, race and colonialism. These are legitimate areas of enquiry for such an artist, but when they are heavily refracted through prevailing Western academic theories, the whole effect is somewhat dispiriting. In essence, the book is light on his achievements and hard on his "omissions", which is quite unfair I think. Choose any notable male performer from the 60's/70's and chances are, you are looking at somebody with questionable attitudes towards women.

I would have loved to have seen a page of one of his scores, or at least a description. How much was formally composed, and how much reached through improvisation? How did he construct his epic works, and how did his techniques change over time? Pull some of his polyrhythms apart! Musical comments were short and unilluminating "he was bringing in more modal harmonies by this stage", "the track begins with a strong bass line, before congas and other percussion enter".

Album covers were frequently discussed, but not illustrated in the book.

A lot of lyrics are reproduced, with the original and standard English versions alongside.

Fela himself is frequently absent from the narrative, usually while some theorizing takes place, before a short quote pops up in the margin. It rarely felt like the author had actually met the man himself, even though he clearly had.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense 7 Sept. 2000
By Arash Saedinia - Published on
A timely exploration of the father of Afro-beat. Veal, who we learn had occasion to play with Fela and spent time at the Shrine, is obviously a fan of the music and his enthusiasm is palpable. Veal's work is distinguished on many levels. As an ethnomusicologist, Veal offers rigorous descriptions and insights into the compositional aspects of Fela's work. We are given the specifics of Fela's innovations and refinements with Afro-beat. Veal locates Fela's accomplishments within the context of its forbears (E.T. Mensah, James Brown, John Coltrane, etc.)and 20th century African/Afrodiaporic music in general. From Nkrumah to Obasanjo, Veal's discussion of Nigerian/African culture and politics is well researched and thoughtful. There are great nuggets of biographical information from Fela's brief feud with Paul McCartney to November 14th, "Fela Day" in Berkeley (go figure). Veal offers a wealth of information on Fela's family and the impact his parents (his mother in particular) had on his musical and political development. We get the blow-by-blow account of Fela's confrontations with the Nigerian authorities (often, as with the Kalakuta Massacre, in harrowing detail). On the critical throretical tip, Veal 'samples' Gilroy, Jameson, Fanon, Spivak (and others), engaging in a extended discussion of Fela's compositions as postcolonial 'texts.' Though at times distractingly academic, Veal is rigorous in his deconstruction of Fela and gender, the "specific symbolic and psychological functions" of strategic historical essentialism, mysticism, etc., avoiding the cheap and oversimplistic assessments that often surround the man (often, as Veal notes, in service of hegemonic notions of "civilization"). There is much I loved about this book: the bits about Fela's "punk" approach, the rejoinder to jazzbo(zos) and their complaints about the lack of technical virtuosity in Fela's playing, the similarities between Fela's work and blaxploitation cinema, the Yoruban (tragic) basis of his music, his later compositions as underrated "African symphonies." Veal isn't afraid to write about Fela's misguided relationship with Professor Hindu, the emptiness of Fela's vaguely anarchic rhetoric as a concrete political agenda (Fela wasn't kidding about his aspirations), the problematics of Fela's lifestyle (too much pot, rampant and unprotected sex) and the effect of his lifestyle on his wives. I would have liked to have seen more on the parallels between Fela's development of Afro-beat and the stylistic exchanges with the J.B.s, and the Afrodiasporic interchanges that led to the development of hip-hop and modern dancehall. More on Dennis Bovell's involvement with Fela and more than passing reference to the Biafran conflict. The passage on Fela's continuing influence (and the intense rediscovery taking place as we speak by a new generation of musicians and music lovers) is all too brief. But these are minor quibbles. Veal has written a marvelous book on a man who was, by turns, confrontational, generous, autocratic, wild, and always brilliant. Essential reading on an essential figure. Long live Fela!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time! 1 Aug. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Fela is almost as important as Bob Marley in the world of black music, but no one has really written a serious book about him until now, and Michael Veal's book is an excellent one in my opinion. Sometimes it's a bit academic but it still provides a lot of detail on Fela's entire life, on the music of his entire career, and all of the Nigerian political backgound, which is substantial. I love Fela's music and I knew he was a legend, but I never quite realized how he put his life on the line to make the music he made and say the things he said, and how heavy it became between him and the Nigerian government. And I also never realized how crazy he was - not surprising considering the fact that he was a brilliant (insane?) artist, and also considering how heavy things became as time went on. That this man managed to survive as long as he did and turn out so much great music is nothing short of miraculous! I think the book is an invaluable document of the political and musical legacy of the 1960s as it developed in Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. I learned a lot about Africa, not only musically but culturally and politically too.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of a great African musician 19 Aug. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
This book is possibly the best biography of any African musician I have read (I've also read biographies/autobiographies of Franco, Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango and a different one on Fela). If all you know of Fela Kuti is the sensationalized stuff (i.e. 27 wives, pot smoking, etc.), it would make sense to publish this alongside all the cheap and easy bios of other controversial pop stars. But when you really get into the Fela story it is complex, encompassing Nigerian music, Nigerian and African politics, and the influence of African-American culture and politics in Africa. I think the author has done an admirable job and produced an African biography that will stand the test of time.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fela Deserves Better 30 Jun. 2007
By Classic Gibbon - Published on
I have mixed feelings about this book and while any book about Fela Kuti is to be welcomed, I don't think this is the definitive one and I do think that Fela's legacy deserves better.

There is no doubt that the author is probably the most well informed of all those who have written about this iconic figure, the man who was the most important musician ever to come out of Africa. The research is unquestionably thorough and there is as much detail as any admirer would wish to know. The problem, for me, is that any biographer should be invisible in the work he's writing. Michael Veal, unfortunately, isn't and at times his presence looms larger than the subject of his book.

Throughout the narrative there are long sections where the author writes an analysis of Fela and his relationship to the African experience. These passages are written in the most stilted and uncomfortable academic manner. The effect of this is to give the impression that the work is a cut and paste job between outside sources and one of the author's academic theses, an impression which renders the book an uncomfortable mix of good biography and dull collegiate essaying. There were times when reading these sections I wondered just what Fela would have made of this awkward literary style - and I suspect he would have been dismissive and written a song which parodied it.

The other fault with the book is the distinct lack of objectivity from the author. That Michael Veal is in awe of the man is not in doubt, but awe is not the best starting place for a biography. The dichotomy of the contrasting aspects of Fela's personality is acknowledged on many occasions, but there is absolutely no attempt to analyse the negative aspects of his character. There is no examination of how Fela's stance in representing the poor and downtrodden contrasts with his ill treatment of his band members, there is no analysis of how, later in life such a forceful personality came under the influence of such an obvious charlatan as Dr Hindu and there is no mention, whatsoever, of the violence and brutality meted out by Fela's own people to those who lived in his commune. Details of which are well documented by other authors and numerous journalists. A biography should look at all aspects of the subject's life and this one fails the reader with excessive bias and a lack of balance.

Michael Veal's involvement in maintaining interest in Fela and his music is to be welcomed. His active support in the ten years since the death of this icon and his involvement in facilitating the current availability of much of Fela's early, and more obscure work, is nothing short of admirable. Perhaps the final step would be a wholesale edit of this biography to produce a balanced and more readable work. Then, perhaps, we would have the definitive story of Fela Kuti.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpice on a Musical Icon 10 Dec. 2002
By Ademola Soremekun - Published on
Michael - has managed to do what very authors have been able to do with Fela's Biography....lay down a balanced view point of the great but yet very complicated man. This book here caputres not just the actions but the Philosophy behind such actions. What i found very informative about this book is the amount of education I received on the History of African music - it kinda sets you on the right track to research more. Fela was no doubt a legend during and after his lifetime and Mr veal captured that well. I very good read - a must read for any african/african american youth.
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