Afrobeat musician, Made Kuti, is still basking in the success of his recent solo gig ‘An Evening With Made Kuti,’ which was held in Lagos.
He introduced his own band, The Movement, to a colourful audience comprising his growing young army of fans, music connoisseurs, brands, diplomats among others.
The grandson of Fela Kuti and son of Femi Kuti gave a foretaste of what to expect at his forthcoming gig when he performed his first show at The New African Shrine alongside his newly-formed band.
Made’s early years were spent growing up in The New Afrika Shrine. There, he learned how to play the trumpet at three, took to the alto sax at five years old, picked up the piano at eight years old, the drums and guitar at 12, and the bass at 15
He spoke with PREMIUM TIMES shortly before his performance and gave an insight into his career and what it is like being the seventh generation of musicians in the Kuti family
PT: How do you think your dad and grandad’s legacy has affected you?
Made: I grew up around music, I grew up in the shrine and I grew up seeing my dad play four times a week at the shrine. I grew up seeing my dad play music on Thursdays. Up until 7 am, I will wake up for school, I will still catch my dad on stage in the shrine. So, their legacy is very much basically my upbringing, and politically, socially, culturally their lifestyle and what they left for us as consumers to understand from them is what I grew up with. Their legacy is my foundation.
PT: Have you been able to define your own style of Afro-beat, is it diluted or is it the original Fela and Femi Afrobeat?
Made: No. That is a tough and easy question. It is not the original Femi and Fela, because my dad took Afrobeat to his own taste and he delivered it differently, as Fela did.
What I am doing is the same thing my dad did, which is finding my own sound. It’s the same thing Fela did, so, I’m finding my own place within Afro-beat, where I played, where I composed. And what is tough is there is no name for it yet because I’m sure with every album it will change. Just like, I don’t think my dad ever changed the name, it was Afro-beat. Just like classical music is so broad and has its sub runners, that’s what I imagine Afro-beat will be like.
PT: So, do you think Afrobeat music, which was essentially a form of protest music, is still viable at this time?
Made: Viable? I think musically, what is so powerful about Africa is – philosophically, psychologically, even physically, music has the power to pass through time, once you record something and it is purposeful, people can always refer to it and they can refer to it knowing where it came from, who it came from, what it meant when it was produced. So, music is definitely, and Fela’s music is definitely as relevant today, if not more relevant than it was in the 70s and in the 80s.
The same goes for my father’s music, he was writing and singing against Babangida during the Babangida era. He was doing something that nobody else was really doing at the time, calling out names when you do that you have a risk of low shows, you face the risks of security and most likely and possibly be as we have them targeted because of our views politically and those setbacks, they will occur.
What is important, what I feel like I have taken from him is that no matter what the purpose will preserve and if you choose that purpose and you make sure you don’t dilute where the sound is coming from, you will be as relevant as the day you composed.
PT: Do you think your style of music will appeal to your generation and mine, who we know like fast-paced songs?
Made: What I have learned is that taste is subjective, it is really up to the person to decide for themselves what they like or don’t like. I have met people in my generation that like Falz, I have met people in my generation that can’t stand listening to Falz and they don’t know where to begin with Jazz. And I don’t want to think of that when I compose, what I want to think of is where my music is coming from. When it comes out, whoever likes it likes it. whoever doesn’t, doesn’t, I’m okay with it.
PT: Do you think being born into a family of music makers is a burden or a blessing?
Made: Honestly, it is the same as most things in life, it is balanced. There are many good things, a few difficult things, there are challenging things, there are opportunities but I think what is a total blessing is that Femi Kuti is my father.
I don’t know if I would have had the mental or physical strength to have had Fela Kuti as my dad.
PT: Why do you say so?
Made: Fela was a different kind of father. My dad, Femi, allows me to call him dad, raised me with a lot of closeness, with a lot of love, with togetherness, with the family. He pushed me and believed in me. Whereas Fela was more or less a very strict person but he believed that everyone in the house was on the same level. So, he didn’t allow my father to call him dad.
My dad left his band against Fela’s will and started his own career, it wasn’t until much later when my dad established himself that father and son then mended their grievances, I have never had that. My dad, if anything, has been telling me to start my own music for as long as possible.
My opportunities as Femi Kuti’s son have been significantly greater than what I imagined my dad could have achieved. My dad, also was the first person to decide whether or not it was possible to continue after a legacy like that, and then Uncle Seun and then me and then only God knows how many people are coming up.
PT: You are the 7th generation musician in the Kuti family?
Made: Yes, I’m the 7th generation of musicians.
PT: Growing up as a teen, were you certain that you would become a musician?
Made: It had to be music because this is where I grew up watching my dad play four times every week. There was nowhere I could consume this music and do away with it. I would rather love it or I would disregard it. The first day I encountered it, I loved it.
PT: What was it like recording the ‘’Legacy Plus album with your dad?
Made: The Legacy Plus album was very special because my dad and I composed it separately. He composed his side of the music while I composed my side of the music. And then I recorded on that album, on his own side of the album. I played sax and I played bass, but on my side of the album, I played every instrument myself, so, it was difficult sitting in the studio for sixteen days, no sleep, recording one instrument down to the other in a circle, get short breaks to eat but as I participated in that, I felt the value of what I was doing, and I never want to wish I was anywhere else, the key elements made me realized how much I love what I’m doing.
And I think when my dad speaks of it, he said that this was the most joyous album for him to write, maybe the most special for him. I know that what I will do henceforth, this will be up there as one of the greatest projects I have ever done, because, not only that I did it for myself, I did it with one of the greatest acts to ever come out of Africa.
PT: If you weren’t doing music, what do you think you would be doing?
Made: If I wasn’t doing music, I’m not sure, I think I will do something in history, maybe astronomy or something that has to do with facts.
PT: You also graduated from your grandad’s alma mater, London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. What was that like?
Made: Surprisingly, I studied in the classical department; we didn’t actually touch much on Fela. When I was in Nigeria, the perception of Fela was mostly misunderstood and negative by my peers, but as soon as I got to Trinity with my peers then, everything became absolutely positive.
There were no negative elements of Fela at Trinity. These were erudite human beings, they were highly talented and highly skilled, they only ever had good things to say about him.
When I realised that, I felt like I understood him more, I knew what he was worth, I knew what my father was worth, what the legacy was worth in the face of the negativity that I face in Nigeria. I almost didn’t really understand, I think now absolved all that positivity, it ticked something in my head that made me realize just how much I really want to work this out.
In the classical department, it will surprise you there were so many people that knew of Fela, but in the Jazz department, everybody knew and I remember in the library, there was, his music, there was my dad’s music. The head of composition, which is what I studied, the head of the composition was a fan of Fela and had seen Fela live.
And when I told him, I wanted to put Afro-beat in a contemporary classical setting, he was all for it. That is one of the opportunities that I will speak about for being a Kuti. Trinity was a positive experience for me, it was very upcountry to my primary and high school life in Lagos.
PT: What are your thoughts on the recent crop of Nigerian musicians and have you featured any Nigerian popstar in your songs?
Made: I have done features with some pop stars, I have done with Runtown and several others. I think my generation of Nigerian musicians is doing incredibly and amazingly well compared to the opportunities that we have been given.
PT: Music is seen as a good instrument for protest and looking at the EndSARS protest, you came out with your dad at Akute. Do you think Nigerian musicians understand this and have been putting that to good use?
Made: When you choose the right political music, which is what Made Kuti is doing, you know that it comes with political risks and branding risks to all sorts of challenges.
When you don’t choose the popular routes, it is a difficult task to ask a young aspiring musician to sing and fight for a country that he doesn’t feel is fighting for him. And I feel like I’m privileged to speak and sing about the things that I do because I have a platform, so it is easier for me.
However, I understand why our culture doesn’t pioneer the reflection of the times in music. It is because, first, they are not given an opportunity to and the risk factor is too much and the country they are fighting for in many ways does not sync with them.
PT: Finally, this is going to be your first solo performance outside of the shrine, how are you gearing up for that, what should we expect?
Made: I have come to take things as they come. What I know is that everyone that comes will have a great time musically. But what I have come to accept is the passage of time. Things will come and they will go.
Whenever something special like this happens, I love to bask in it and to understand that one day, I will never have another first show outside of the shrine. So, I have to really appreciate this because there will come a time when I will be so tired of playing music but now that we have this, this feeling, this excitement, I will continue to bask in it.
(Made’s solo gig held on July 2 at the fit-for-purpose Terra Culture Arena, Victoria Island, Lagos).
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