Yale was represented earlier this year at the 2014 Sundance Festival at the screening of Finding Fela, a documentary on Afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938-1997). Directed by Academy Award winning Alex Gibney (YC ‘77), the film recounts the life of the Nigerian musician and illustrates how he used music as a forum to express opinions against his country’s dictatorial government in the 1970s and 1980s.
Michael Veal, Yale Professor of Ethnomusicology, was involved in the film’s production and is featured in interviews. Veal became interested in Kuti’s jazz-infused, Afrobeat music in the 1980s and even played as a guest in his band Egypt 80. While a Master’s student at Wesleyan University, he wrote his thesis on Kuti and later revised it into the book Fela: The Life And Times Of An African Musical Icon, published in 2000 by Temple University Press.
In the film, Veal draws upon his expertise as an ethnomusicologist to articulate how Fela’s music—its composition, rhythm, form— embodies and speaks to the greater historical and political context of post-colonial Nigeria. He also lent the makers materials from his archives and helped with the production and editing processes.
The result of the collaboration is a nuanced view into the complex life of a musical pioneer and political icon. Finding Fela will open at the IFC Center in New York City on August 1st. It will play in select theatres nationwide.