I Draw Inspiration from My Heritage and Legacy
Ferdinand Ekechukwu and Sunday Ehigiator caught up with Made Kuti few hours to his performance at the fourth edition of ‘A Night with Made Kuti and the Movement’ held last week at the New Afrika Shrine, Ikeja Lagos. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, Made, the son of Femi Kuti, and grandson of Fela Kuti, gave an interesting account of his musical journey, noting among other things, how he found music in his father’s enclave and how being the grandson of Fela Kuti, makes him strives to become greater as afrobeat musician. Excerpt…
Tell us about your show happening tonight, and how longs has it been for you?
Tonight we had a very good friend and great musician, Shalom, and another very great musician, Ric Hassani performs to the delight of everyone present. Before that in our Friday shows at the shrine we have had Lady Donli, we’ve had the cavemen, Olusegun, Tony Thomas, Yega, Hola, and generally we are a young group of people that play on this particular days, because it’s really much about the progression of the culture and movement of the music, and everything that comes around it. This is our fourth edition, it’s been very amazing and very great and I hope it continues to be so. I’ll be playing from our first single, free your mind, and some of our very new numbers that we have not yet recorded our best live numbers. I’ll be doing a few covers of my grandfather and father’s songs, and a lot of my songs. And it’s a beautiful thing to be able to play songs that takes people through different generations of music from the same family. It’s always very special.
How did you found music?
I found music by being around an environment where music was really overwhelming. I used to wake up to school on Friday mornings and still catch my dad playing from the previous night. He used to play four times a week, every week at the shrine, and the amount of music I took in was so beautifully direct and raw. I have seen the musicians practice, see them perform, and put so much passion into everything they were doing, walking into the studio with them, and see the end product of the recording. This was what really triggered my passion for music, being able to experience it at the very direct level.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I draw inspiration from reality, the things I experience on a daily basis, what Nigeria has been what Nigeria is, and is becoming. I draw inspiration also from my heritage, my legacy and the people that have come before me.
What does being a Kuti mean to you?
Been a Kuti instills in me a very significant level of healthy pride to make me feel like I belong to something that is so great, with so much integrity, and strive to become better in each generation that comes through, to really grow and explore yourself to become a better version of yourself, and to do the best you can before you pass on to the afterlife. So, we have really been striving to, not necessarily be exceptional human beings, but to be the best we can be. And it’s very nice that I’m part of this family.
I learnt you will be going on a tour, tell us about it?
The tour starts on November 17, and it’s a tour with Femi Kuti. So he has a tour this year, and a couple more next year. We haven’t travel out for a while because of the Covid-19 regulations. Now that the doors are opening up and flights are a lot easier, and it’s now easier to have a venue with a lot of people, so it’s great, especially to go on tour with my father. It’s always a very beautiful experience; always a learning experience for me.
How would you rate the exporting of Nigerian music culture, and its global acceptance?
I think Fela was one of the biggest pioneers in pushing African music to the rest of the world, in a way that he connected to them through his political message. Maybe due to the time he was in, the message was liberal, and everything he spoke about Nigeria translated in a very clear way to the rest of the world. So people that like Fela didn’t only like his music, they love his personality, they like that he was a man of integrity, even when he was controversial, he always spoke his truth and stood by what he believed.
That level of honesty and the way he projected it for so many years, I think we all got inspired by that, I mean people that understood him the way that we do. And from then on, the many generations of music that came after that, and how it sparked, and how the movement of Afrobeat has spanned across the globe, this is something Nigeria as a whole should be proud of. To know that there is something Nigerians are doing on a world scale. So I’m proud of that.
At Felebration, you performed with your father on stage at some point, how do you feel about that?
As you know, my father is a legend. I don’t consider myself a legend yet. I have not done anything remotely close to my father’s accomplishment, so whenever I climb the stage with him, everything from the moment he steps on and the moment he steps off, is education.
Do Nigerians still listen to the knowledge songs pass across or we are now more interested in beats and sounds?
I don’t think we listen to music the way we used to. I think everything, due to globalisation, commercialisation, things have not necessarily reduced in value, but have reduced in content. And when that happens, in order for things to be more generic, because they can make more money, sell more, it dampens creativity, and inspiration. It doesn’t allow for the amount of liberty that an artiste can have to really experiment with things, and really go deep in things, because he is worried that if it’s not generic or simple enough, or if it’s too complicated or too deep, then nobody can connect with it. So I feel that, that is happening, but I think there is a form of recovery coming up now. I think people are more or less starting to be triggered by music that is heavy on content, and have started to investigate more on it.
Several musicians seems to have attached their songs and lifestyle to the Fela brand, some not even projecting him well, what would you say about this?
I think before anything, not just Fela, anything you endeavor in, claim to be or understand, do research. And if you say you are Fela’s son or heavily inspired by him, but you can’t name 10 of his numbers from the 80’s for instance, then really you are not someone who can claim to be a part of his movement. If you don’t understand and go deep into his biography where he spoke about his life, his personal views and how he approaches his music, if you don’t endeavour to really investigate Fela, to see the musical, the music, to read the books, and listen to all the music of him you can, then absorb the type of man that he was, he was a man of honour, integrity, braveness at a time nobody was willing, risk taker for so many others, if the only thing you identified with is Indian-helm, then you are not remotely on his mental level.
There have been several mix of Afrobeat, how do you react to this?
I think to a degree, every society has to have music that is easy to listen to, music that is commercial and are danceable. I mean music that can be played at clubs, listen to when you aren’t trying to investigate anything, or be heavily inspired per say, but just to feel good, dance and groove. Truly, these sounds are still under the umbrella of Afrobeat, because a lot of it was influenced by Fela, even if it’s not necessarily or deeply musical in the sense of the complicity of harmony and arrangements, the way he write his songs, or the structure of the music.
It’s still influenced by Afrobeat. My hope is that, there is balance. That people can see Afrobeat, and see Afrobeats, and understand that they are connected but are also not the same thing. And there should be a reasonable balance of interest and endorsement from the people that are allowed to have that power to put music out through radios and televisions. To also give opportunities to musicians that play music instruments, that practice every day, that try to be the best and most skilled as much as they can, and represents not just themselves but their country on the global scale.
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