The latest offering from the Kuti dynasty is a stimulating stance on Afrobeat and a testament to the boundless sonic possibilities of the genre.
The Kutis have one of those names synonymous with trailblazing change, much like the Marleys or the Jacksons or the Obamas. The acclaim attached to them results from the work that Fela did almost half a decade ago across so many fronts. For the rest of the world, they may only be synonymous with the development of the Afrobeat genre and their stellar blend of Highlife, but they correspond with so much more for people in these parts. The running commentary provided for the extent of Fela’s career helped educate the listeners on a molecular level about the dilemma that being a Nigerian living in Nigeria is. He highlighted the quality of life the masses were made to endure routinely, and juxtaposed it with the quality of life that the leaders enjoyed incessantly, to the extent that the government stepped in multiple times to suppress the man and his message.
That level of impact was and remains uncommon for us in Nigeria; the most recent form of activism we have witnessed is the Feminist Coalition providing aid and support for protesters and victims alike during the recent #EndSARS demonstrations. Sadly, this also points to a greater issue: the fact that the lyrics and subject on most Fela records are still resonant with the country’s current socio-political climate almost fifty years later. This lack of growth is the fuel that burns the fire of Legacy +, the double-sided project comprising Made Kuti’s debut album For(E)Ward, and Femi Kuti’s eleventh album, Stop The Hate. The compilation project is shared between the father and son, yet the project signifies the presence of three generations of Kutis. The Fela samples ring out on songs like “Pa Pa Pa”, and one of Seun Kuti’s rants provide the second verse on the track “Blood”, giving the feeling that the project was a family affair.
The Kuti family has not only inherited the mantle of artistic activism, but they have also accepted the responsibility that comes with handling such a delicate but important message. The album is a tale of two records: Made’s half a more nascent breath of the Kuti legacy, bordering on spoken word and implementing the same narrative-based songwriting that made his grandfather a legend, while the first half of the album, although impressive, borders on the predictability we have come to expect of Femi Kuti’s renascent blend of Afrobeat and Highlife.
Without a doubt, Made is the engine on Legacy +. The experimental nature and refreshed sonic direction of his half of the project could be credited to his time at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, a prestigious college of music in London, England where he studied. His experience playing in his father’s band has honed his multi-instrumentalism to razor-sharp degrees that can be heard on every horn and cymbal throughout the project. The production invokes a strong sense of deja vu that is hard to shake for the 88-minute run time, and the instrumentation is reminiscent of the latest compositions of his grandfather, Fela Kuti. For(e)ward is his debut album, but it’s absent of any amateurism; the purposeful nature of its release almost forbids any mediocrity from tainting it.
Legacy + isn’t garden-variety activism or socio-economic commentary; this is a project designed to bully villainy into submission. Lyrics like 'song of shame' and 'if corruption – you no go fit to fight corruption' elicit feelings of angst and a morbid disdain for the ruling class; while more grounded ones like 'they make people hungry' and 'trillions missing, billions missing' present a more visceral point of view for listeners who may otherwise be caught in a privileged bubble. The album shakes you up by being brazen to the point of simplicity; while Fela might have trolled, Femi and Made are unequivocally saying to the ruling class, “You have to go – now.”
Made may also possess perhaps the most nuanced viewpoint amongst the two artists on this project, carrying on a fight that every Nigerian-born millenial did from their parents: fixing this fucking mess of a country. The final three songs on his half of the album (“Hymn”, “Young Lady” and “We Are Strong”) find him attempting to sing a variety of hurt away as he details poverty and overpopulation on one and tackles sexual predation and Afrocentric beauty standards on the next, leading up to the rallying call that sees out the project. Using a multitude of instrumental solos (the saxophone majorly) as his outlet, he delivers 14 minutes of his eight tracks on two seven-minute ballads – a typical Kuti feature – in a manner reminiscent of his grandfather, who he acknowledges on “Different Streets”. A lot of his half of the project is experimental and moving in a different direction than the first half; a signal that a new voice has emerged from Afrobeats’ first family.
Never one to let short-term success stand in the way of long-term integrity, Fela’s message has endured and shines through on this project. Still, it is increasingly harder to distinguish if this is because of its strength or due to the sheer amount of developmental stagnation we have been subjected to as a country. One thing is certain, though; there will always be a Kuti, saxophone in hand, ready to speak on it.