In more ways than one, music was always in Made’s DNA. First, he’s the grandson of global icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who continues to entertain millions across the globe 24 years after his passing. Secondly, he began touring the world with his father, the Afrobeat legend, Femi Kuti, just a few years after he learnt to walk. But beyond the expectations that inevitably surround him, the 25-year-old artist is determined to make music his way, consistently challenge himself and leave a legacy to be proud of.
In this interview, SCHICK sits down with Made Kuti to discuss his journey as a man, musician and maverick.
There’s an abundance of intrigue that surrounds the Anikulapo-Kuti family. As a young child, how did that impact you?
I’m not sure I really understood the impact the family had culturally, politically or musically in our communities or around the world as a young child. I just noticed my father was pulling crowds of about two to five thousand people four times a week, every week at the Shrine. And it was through that I developed my interest and passion for music.
Legacy is an enormous part of your journey, personally and professionally. How do you handle the pressure that comes with working in music, as the grandchild of a global legend?
I don’t feel pressure; I enjoy the art of being a musician and creating music that comes from a great heritage. There are a lot of nuances, I’ve discovered, to being a creative, making art with a strong identity tied to its roots. But I’ve found that there is real joy in being creative under fairly challenging circumstances. This is when I think we become aware of our objective and subjective tastes and choices, and decide where we fit on that spectrum to create our own art with its own ‘strong identity’.
When did you first realise you wanted to foray into music?
I’ve been involved in music, one way or another, for as long as I can remember. I started going on tour with my dad when I was about 4 years old I think, and I joined his band as a saxophonist and kept travelling with the band from when I was about 8. It was around that time I decided I wanted to be a musician.
“[My dad] is very accepting of me freely creating my own identity musically and has been a great teacher on that path.”
How would you describe your relationship with your father?
An absolute blessing. I owe him more than I can ever repay. I can only hope to be as great a father to my own children.
How has working together had an effect on your relationship?
It’s been really positive. It allowed me to experience music on stages and platforms at a very young age that a lot of musicians don’t get to experience in a lifetime. He is also very accepting of me freely creating my own identity musically and has been a great teacher on that path.
What are the most important values your parents passed on to you?
Integrity, focus, perseverance, truth, strength, peace and balance.
Your album, For(e)ward is described as “pushing the boundaries of Afrobeat.” In what ways do you believe it’s done that?
I guess I did a lot of experimentation with certain techniques, structure, textures, timbre, harmony and even songwriting methods. But what made this body of work very special to me was playing every instrument on it myself.
Why was it important to you to play every instrument?
It felt like a healthy challenge for myself and because I wanted people listening to my first body of work to know that every little or major sound they heard was from me. I wanted the listeners to have that level of intimacy with each song.
Which song off the album is most meaningful to you?
I think Free Your Mind. Maybe because its message really encompasses every other song on the album.
Which song challenged you the most?
That would be Blood. It’s a pretty technical song I tried to develop using minimalist techniques with a lot of detail. It was a headache to record at a point!
“I don’t know if I fit under the ‘alternative’ umbrella. I also try not to fit entirely into one concept or description, artistically. But I am a huge fan of the movement.”
In what ways have you seen your music touch other people’s lives?
Someone once said they heard Free Your Mind at a time they were on a path to freeing their mind, and had started picking up certain books and questioning certain accepted truths on that path. That was amazing to hear.
Within the last few years, the alternative movement has become a huge part of Nigerian pop culture. Do you identify with it?
I don’t know if I fit under its umbrella. I also try not to fit entirely into one concept or description, artistically. But I am a huge fan of the alternative movement.
As with most artists, your style is a huge part of your image. In your own words, how do you describe it?
[Laughs] This is difficult for me! I don’t think I have a lot of fashion sense, so I leave a lot of these artistic choices to my friend and stylist Dolapo Bello (who is the owner of Braimien, the clothing brand), and my mother as well. His ability to understand character and vision, and bring it out in his work, is amazing. I think I wear almost exclusively Braimien designs at this point!
In the near future, what kinds of music collaborations – on and off stage – can fans look forward to?
Any and everyone. I’m very flexible musically, especially when I’m not writing for myself. Fans can expect a wide range of collaborations I think.
What do you want your legacy to be?
A beautifully triumphant one.