Made Anikulapo Kuti Fela’s grandson Exclusive Pulse interview
Omorinmade Anikulapo Kuti carries with him a graceful mien and being a Kuti naturally bears some weight of expectations on him, but he is unfazed, focused only on his music and living life as defined only by himself.
There is something about the Kuti clan that signals towards the rebellious and the enigmatic but as the descendant of one of Nigeria’s most inspirational and cultural figure, Fela Kuti, made his way into the Pulse office, it appeared that he had become used to the cloud that hovers wherever he went especially in form of the curious stares as he exchanged pleasantries with a matured level of awareness and confidence.
”No, it has never been like that, maybe it is because of the kind of person I am, I don’t move into spaces where I cause trouble for myself, so very rarely do you see my outside.” Made explains when I asked if the attention ever gets overwhelming for him.
”In a way, you are aware of the attention and it governs your actions to a degree, you know the things you can’t do and the ones you will be praised for and shunned for.
On the other hand, it has its positives as well, it opens doors sometimes, it got me my place in my university, I don’t want to speak like the fame or attention is something to feel burdened about,” he shared.
He smiles robustly when I jokingly ask him to confirm the rumor that the light never goes off at the shrine.
For Made, music is his life, the great-great-grandson of J.J Ransome Kuti, great-grandson of Israel Ransome Kuti, great-grandson of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, grandson of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and son of Femi Kuti and Funke Kuti was born into a world surrounded by instruments, sounds and ideologies, but he says he is not in any way intimidated;
”It’s not pressure, it is fuel. if you understand the legacy then, you understand what the individual from each legacy stand for, and it is not something that makes you scared if you share the passion, It is something that gives you inspiration.”
In this exclusive interview with Pulse, Made Kuti talks about setting up his own band, how he became a member of his father’s Positive Force band, working on his solo album and his thoughts on Nigeria and the state of things.
Read below the full interview Pulse had with with Omorinmade Anikulapo Kuti
How was growing up like for you?
”I grew up in the shrine and when you grow up in the shrine, you grow up around music.
If you step in the shrine now, behind you have pictures of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, you have Marcus Garvey, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, you have Lumumba [Patrice], so the question is who are these people, what is this music speaking about.
You grow up in that environment, you grow up very conscious of your identity as an African, even as a black man, so you ask all the questions that should eventually lead you to become an intellectual.
Why are black people the way they are? why do people look at the shrine that way? why are there so many false rumors even though we don’t do anything bad, why do they associate members of the family with so many negative and positive things? so you ask so many questions, it leads you to become a very thoughtful person.”
How would you describe yourself?
”I think of myself as an intellectual, someone who is flexible enough to accept when he is wrong, flexible to adapt to changes, flexible enough to grow and to learn every day.
You had to adapt in school, anywhere outside of shrine, there are not many spaces that allow you to think freely.
I consider myself a pan-Africanist and I think I have had to adapt to many situations. When I went to University in London, being a pan-Africanist was actually a strong sign of my identity and they appreciated that.”
He describes his type of music as a fusion of Afrobeats and other genres.
Were there times you had to question some of your pan-Africanism?
”Recently I had. During our last European tour, there was always a point on stage when my dad would speak about global unity rather than African unity, but then he will always end it again by saying there cannot be global unity without African unity and African development and growth.
That’s the only way for the world to reach that ideal that we so wish for. I am a pan-Africanist that wants the growth of Africa but wishes for a more diverse and united planet.”
You have been touring since you were eight, how has that been?
”That question is very tough to answer because I don’t know any life except Kuti life.
When I was eight, I played two venues that musicians dream of playing. I played the Hollywood Bowl and I played Glastonbury and at the time I didn’t appreciate it at all, that was just another venue.
Then I was about 19, I was going through YouTube and was watching one of my dad’s shows at Glastonbury and who did I see, myself and I was like, what?
It is only now as an adult that I can look back and say because of my father I have had so many experiences, you can’t buy that.”
How is it like playing alongside your dad?
”That is something I know that the only other thing I can experience that will be similar is when I play with my daughter or son, you can’t describe it.
With music, you transcend. It is something special and to feel that there is someone next to you that is doing it with the same amount of vigor, the same amount of passion, connected to you is very special and I am just glad I got the chance to experience it.”
Do you see him as a Dad on stage?
”Always dad and boss at the same time”, he smiles while recollecting their most special performances, ”The most special are the ones at the shrine.”
Tell us about you joining the Positive Force Band and why it took someone absconding for you to take your place?
Sometime in 2018, a member of Femi Kuti’s Positive Band, Aghedo Andrew had absconded just minutes before the band took to stage in the United States leaving a void that has now been filled by Made and he explains why it took this long.
”It was never part of the plan. Like I was never supposed to actually play for him.
What happened was as soon as I went to Trinity College, I was supposed to immediately start my career, put a band together and start making an album.
I wasn’t even a bass player, I just happened to be learning the bass on the side and he happened to hear me play.
The first time the bassist ran away, he said Made, ”Can you learn 50 plus songs in one week, we are about to go on a one week European tour and I said yeah, the rule in music is you never let anyone know your weaknesses, so Yes is always the answer, so I said Yeah, I did it.
We played on Thursday and Sunday normally at the shrine, went on the tour for one week, came back, everything went smoothly, that was supposed to be the last time I played with him.
I went back to Trinity, then I graduated and another bassist ran away, I came back, golden opportunity and I am about to go on a four week European tour with Femi Kuti and the Positive Force in Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, you don’t say No, that is life experience, it wasn’t part of the plan but if that bassist didn’t run away, I don’t know where my place will be in the band. I probably would have just played sax solos, I won’t have gone on tours.”
Will your band still come to life or that has been overshadowed by your place in your father’s band?
”No, we are constantly still working on that. I have finished writing the album, we are unto the business phase of it, I am talking to people, it is going well, and I think I can do both, play my music and be part of the band.”
The album is expected to be released in 2020.
Members of the Positive Force band are placed on a pay scale depending on how long they have been members of the band and Made being the most recent member having joined less than a year ago is reportedly placed on the lowest scale and he explained;
‘‘I am at the bottom of the payroll (He laughs). There isn’t any family partiality, that is the type of person he is, he is too honest, the fact that he put me there is his decision, totally his decision.
First I am a musician that just started his career and is touring the country, that should be more than enough, so to be paid on top of that, I am just happy and Its a good salary.”
What instrument is your specialty?
”Under my dad, I learned the saxophone, that is what I played and what my identity as a musician is but I when I went to London for those seven years, the first three years, I focused on classical piano, I didn’t even pick up the sax for two years.
So I passed the grades in Piano and did the ATCL Diploma which made me quite confident that a part of my career will be as a classical pianist. Then for some reason, I found this love for the trumpet, then the bass, piano, sax and then I started playing the drums.
I would define myself not as a saxophonist or composer but a multi-instrumentalist composer, so in total, I play five instruments.”
If Made was not doing music, what will he be doing?
”Honestly, maybe Physics. I like Astronomy.”
You have been actively playing music for about 16 years, do you think you will ever get to a point where you are tired of this life and seek to do something different?
”Music is vast. I studied composition at Trinity Laban, I didn’t actually do any instruments, so I studied how to write.
So even if at any point, I tire out of touring, there is always film music, there is always advert, there is always orchestra, there is too much in music to ever get tired.”
Do you have the time to do something else outside music?
”Every day, I try to practice the trumpet, sax, piano and the bass. Now that my siblings are growing up, I am giving them Piano lessons and they come to me for Sax and Trumpet advice as well.
So most of my day is music, but at the end of every day, you play with your siblings, once in a while, I put a show on, my dad and I play FIFA every night for like one-hour straight, so I think that is our de-stressing activity.”
How long can you hold a note on the sax without taking a breath?
”Dad’s record is 51 minutes, I am not going to say mine, it is long but it is not even half of that.” he laughs.
Outside your father, who are your other musical influences?
”I have Coltrane, Miles, the popular ones Oscar Peterson. For Classical, I like Chopin and I really like Stravinsky and Bach.
In the electronic world, I like Aphex Twin and I like Japanese Rock.”
Your grandfather Fela died barely two years after your birth, what has been the most important thing passed on about his legacy to you?
”The most important thing is his integrity. He was a man of strong conviction. And even when he did things that were out of normal, he did things believing it was what he wanted to do, so I liked that confidence in him.
Do you have experiences of people saying negative things about your family?
”Very many times, my siblings are presently experiencing it.
The way I dealt with it is I was very quiet by the time I got to secondary school, so I didn’t say anything, it was like a task that I just had to complete to get to my next stage of life. You have to take it with strength, you can’t allow yourself to be phased by words.
What I have learnt to accept is to live my life in a very clear way, very clear morals, very clear values, at any point it is forcibly challenged, I just go with the flow. When you remain uncompromising with your integrity, it just blows away.
Look at Femi Kuti today, I remember when I was young, they said he was mad, there was a paper that said he was running naked on the streets, can you imagine seeing that as a child.
Then your friends ask you if this is true, eventually you become used to it. I don’t feel the need to constantly make my reputation good, you should be uncompromising in the way you live your life.”
You have been exposed to this life from a very early age, now that you are your own man, would you have wished for certain things to be different?
‘‘No, I think everything I have experienced has made me who I am today, I quite like who I am today. I feel more interested in who I become, I don’t look at the past too much, I only learn from it and even more interesting than my own history is the history of the entire family. I look back to learn, I don’t look back to try to change anything.
Tell us about life in the shrine
”I grew up there, I have always either backstage or looking at the shrine, so to be standing there and to be playing with as much energy as I can, that stage, in particular, is sacred to me.”
How is the crowd at the shrine like compared to other places you have performed?
”You adapt. In School, I have done a few concerts on the piano, So I have also adapted to an audience that is sitting doing actually nothing until you finish playing, I have had both extremes.
But then on tour, because they know they are watching Femi Kuti, they actually are ready to groove, but the vibe is different. It is not different bad but it is just different.”
You spoke about growing up in the shrine, do you ever feel like one who grew up in a controlled environment?
”Very wrong, because shrine was my home but I had to go to school and on excursions, I saw a lot of the outside world, and what I found out was what was normal was very contrary to what I experienced as normal.
So you have that clash between your friends and your mates, basic conversations whether it is religion or politics talks about social issues, you find that growing up in the shrine makes you think about things slightly different from the normal and you accept that you are different and think differently.
In school, it is a box, you are controlled and the way you think, shrine allowed me to challenge those normal thoughts.”
Would you describe yourself as a religious person or an atheist?
”I am nowhere in that spectrum, I am just in between. I am not religious because no religion has yet to answer the questions that I have and I am not an atheist because I don’t have the answers to the questions that I have, so I am just somewhere in between, asking questions and looking for answers.”
Tell us a bit about your Mum and how she has influenced you?
”There is a lot. She has made me very fashion conscious.
I am not good at fashion but she has made me aware of the way I look. She has the traits that a mother will have, support, love, kindness always there whenever you need a discussion relating to the challenges that you are facing.”
He also shares his thoughts on Polygamy, ”I think the problem starts to occur when we act as if there are universal laws dictating how you are supposed to live, whereas its culture based.
It depends on your culture, the influences you have around you, I don’t judge people and it is not my place to challenge you based or your personal decisions.”
The Kutis are also known for being vocal politically, what do you think about the nation presently, especially with the elections?
”My thoughts are I hope, that whatever happens, we are stable afterwards. I really hope that whatever the people are somehow able to maintain their calm irrespective of what happens.
What do you think needs to change in Nigeria?
‘‘First, who is a Nigerian? What does Nigerian really mean? We put a lot of importance to names and meanings and it is the same with every other culture in the country. If we put so much value in identity, what does Nigeria really mean? I hate the name I can’t lie.
Coming to Nigeria from having a stable job in London or America is a sacrifice. You will be sacrificing possibly a lesser salary and on top of that there are bad roads, no light, why would you come back knowing that you will be happier outside but the only reason why you would is if you are socially conscious to want to contribute to Nigeria, there is no other reason.
If you come back, I believe you are thinking as an African that wants to be part of the growth of Africa.
We need to up the standard of Africa starting from a hugely populated country like Nigeria and we will see a lot of people coming back home.”
What are your parting words to the Nigerian Youth?
”My message is specifically to the Nigerian youths, we have been failed, the generation before us failed us, they did their best but because of their compliance, because of their inactivity, we are where we are today and if we repeat the mistakes of those that came before us, our actions will affect the generations after us.
It will never end, at some point, we have to think collectively, if we don’t think as a people, as a closely connected generation, if we don’t bounce ideas off each other, if we don’t talk, then there is nothing for us.
The power behind this country is too strong for any one person to face alone, even a thousand people if the entire generation does not start thinking collectively, consciously and even progressively, we will still be here in the next 100 years, unfortunately.”
This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.