When it comes to live performances, almost no one I’ve seen can match the stage presence, vocal delivery and overall persona of Makadem. He says it might be because he started doing live shows before recording so he developed the stamina early; I also think it’s because he’s doing music he loves. Because if you truly love something, you put your heart and soul into it – that’s Makadem.
He tells me in the middle of the interview how in sometime 2001, Eric Wainaina were invited for an event with a certain ambassador and there were thousands of people attending; by the time he got on stage at about 2,3 a.m, there were only 10 people left, but he still played with his whole heart.
His real name is Charles Ademson and Ademson is where the name Makadem comes from. Mak’a translates to ‘Son of’, and their family name is Adem bringing the name Makadem. Now the Ademson, that’s a whole other story.
When he began, the first genre he worked with was dancehall in the late 90s & early 2000s, but when he came to Nairobi and met afro fusion producer, Tabu Osusa, they got into afro fusion transforming his style from dancehall to a fusion of Benga and Ohangla. This move also saw him officially transforming from Mr Lololova to Makadem. Soon after, he released his first album, Ohanglaman at Ketebul music & it’s been uphill ever since.
“My music is based on Benga beats but I’ve grown up all over East Africa so my style is very unique because it’s a mix of Benga and any other thing that’s African, especially East African.
I’m also one of the last artists to play the Nyatiti and I’m going to play some of my songs at the Tusker Oktobafest with the Nyatiti, a very hard instrument to come by these days since Nyatitis are originally very big, and for you to get a big Nyatiti, you have to fell a big tree, which the government has banned. I had mine handed over to one of the older Nyatiti players who gave it over to Ketebul music before he died.
It’s actually very interesting to see what artists are doing with music nowadays. I remember when I moved from dancehall to Benga, there was a large sort of cultural shift happening at the time. I had started out with live performances but I aimed for the Nairobi audience; at the time, musically, Nairobi was doing poorly, they didn’t have musicians. I was actually doing trips almost 3 times a week via road from Mombasa to Nairobi to perform.
Then Ogopa emerged and all these acts started popping up and we (non-Nairobians) found ourselves cornered after akina Redsan, E-Sir and the like came up.
After 2001, things really shifted. Everyone wanted hits so the frequency of live shows sort of died down. We went from doing multiple shows to countable shows. If you even look at how many artists are doing shows with a live band, they’re very few who can do it well. You need stamina, you need the energy to perform for hours and you need to have done hours of practice with a live band. I for one, am doing something magical this weekend with Gravitti Band & we’ll be doing a mix of songs that I don’t think the audience is ready for.”
What about new music? Tours?
“With or without a full calendar, I always make sure I tour Europe every summer
I was once under management by a European from 2010-2014 and from that I learnt how to work there.
In 2017 I got wind of a few gigs after lots of networking, including a German I met in Zanzibar who owns a resort there. He got me four gigs plus the ones I’d already booked which totaled to 7. This year, he got me 20 gigs.
What I’ve learnt in the 20 years is that artists need to perform. Not just release hits or albums. They need to travel and tour and see that they need to put in the work to become great artists. Look at Eric Wainaina. He didn’t just make it because he started out early, he actually put in the work, that’s why he can get gigs even right now if he wants to. I’m not sought after here in Kenya, but I get gigs in Europe and I’m planning to do more of South and West Africa next year.”