REVIEW: Femi Kuti & Made Kuti – Legacy +

Now in its third generation, the unmistakable Afrobeat sound of the Kuti musical dynasty is clearly a force to be reckoned with. It’s almost impossible to dislike music this fun and affirming. But is this 50 year old sound still meaningful today? In this ambitious new double album/two albums in one project, Femi and son Made Kuti set out to not only modernise their style, but also to show us just how relevant they still are.

Legacy + combines two albums: Femi Kuti’s Stop the Hate and Made Kuti’s For(e)ward. As you might imagine, the former is more faithful to the Lagos Kuti sound with its distinctive saxophone riffs. The latter does the job of pushing boundaries and bringing things up to date with a trumpet led London Kuti sound, forged presumably when studying music at Trinity. Elements of this will be familiar to fans of Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, Kokoroko and Ezra Collective – all future (if not current) British jazz royalty.

Activism is another big part of their inheritance, a part that goes back even further than Fela himself. Both these albums have a political message to spread and they’ve made sure it’s a message that can mean plenty to people’s own situations, wherever they may find themselves in the world. Sure, they may have been written with local issues in mind, but the all-encompassing grievances here have broad appeal. Railing in a non-specific way about ‘bad government policies’ and ‘fighting corruption with corruption’ while making pleas to ‘stop the hate’ is something easy to agree with without needing to get the detail. You can already hear the faint sound of the Glastonbury 2022 crowd chanting ‘stop the hate/for goodness sake’ right back at them. The positive messages of unity and freedom have a wide appeal too. Who doesn’t want to ‘free your mind/free your mind/free your mind/free your mind’?

Femi doesn’t waste his time getting started with Stop The Hate. Within seconds of opener ‘Pà Pá Pà’ his musical and political intent is clear. The funky rhythm section, those characteristic rhythmic brass and saxophone hits, and the lyrics ‘government must not waste our time’. The pace barely lets up throughout. It’s high energy from start to finish while managing to have you dancing and thinking at the same time. There is also a neat thematic segue between the two records as Femi finishes with ‘Set Your Minds and Souls Free’ before Made opens with ‘Free Your Mind’. Femi wants to remove the shackles of oppression, while Made hints more towards freedom of critical thought. They’re here not just to cement their own legacy, but to confront the legacies of colonisation and of the recent trend of dangerous misinformation peddled by certain political leaders.

For(e)ward by contrast is less a straightforward hip-shaker but the more musically diverse of the two. Made makes use of samples and keyboards, and a mixture of the more hypnotic pace of ‘Free Your Mind’ with the upbeat ‘Higher You’ll Find’ and pensive ‘Hymn’. Made’s vocal style is more restrained and more lyrical than Femi’s and you get the sense that he’s still growing as a singer. When you learn that he played every other instrument on the album (plus bass, alto saxophone and percussion on Stop The Hate), you can readily forgive a less powerful performance in this area.

The Kuti name is synonymous with Afrobeat; the legacy is already secure, and with Made it’s in safe hands for the future. So if this is the case, then why can’t what is effectively Made’s debut album stand alone? He’s a Kuti so does he really need his dad to carry him along? He’s clearly not lacking confidence in his musical ability. So is it indeed the other way around? Is Made here to bring Femi to a younger audience? Who needs who more? Did they simply not want to compete when releasing albums at the same time? The answer will probably continue to elude us. Their unique approach to releasing their albums may yet prove a stroke of genius.

Words by James Spearing

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