Malik Kofi is an extraordinarily talented 15 year old young cellist from Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to his most prodigious accomplishments on the cello, Malik also plays a number of other instruments: the marimba, vibraphone, cymbals, tums (drums); he is also an accomplished public speaker. We caught up with Malik while in the midst of a very busy academic schedule, and were grateful for the opportunity to learn some more about him and his life as a young musician in the following interview:
Q. How did your life as a cellist begin?
MK: When I was four years old, I wanted to play bass. However, I was obviously too small. My older twin brothers played cello. So, I decided to play the cello like them until I was big enough to play bass. I began playing cello at five. I absolutely loved it and never considered bass again.
Q. Can you describe the way music makes you feel?
MK: Music does not make me feel any particular way. Love, peace, joy, and happiness are not inherent in things of the world or outside of myself. They are manifestations of my inner higher Self. So I bring a particular something to music instead of music bringing something to me, and it's mostly a combination of all the above: love, peace, joy, and happiness.
Q. Do you play any other musical instruments or enjoy other arts?
MK: I am also a percussionist. I'm in the marching band at school. Presently I play marimba, vibraphone, tums, and cymbals in the pit percussion section. However, I play most all percussion instruments.
Q. Who have been your main sources of inspiration as you continue your development as an artist?
MK: My older twin brothers have been my main source of inspiration. They are twelve years older than I am, and I have wanted to be like them in every way.
Q. How do you balance music practice and pursuits with school academics?
MK: I was home schooled until 2015. The balancing act was very easy. I had time to spend 6 to 8 hours on cello and 2 hours on percussion in addition to daily school work. It was one-to-one. There was no daily getting up to go anywhere. There was no passing classes. My time was structured with precision; every moment had to count. It was quite easy. In October 2015, I started public high school. I started 6 weeks late, so I had to play catch up/ keep up. Then I had to get up early enough to shower and dress, eat breakfast, and catch a six o'clock school bus each morning. It's a huge school; getting lost between classes the first week was frustrating but I learned fast. Catching the evening school bus was daunting. Sometimes the bus changed pickup location, but that was a detail you had to know. I didn't initially. It was tough at first, but I was determined to get it right, a matter of prioritizing and sticking to a schedule. So now when I get in from school, I practice cello for about 1-2 hours. Then I proceed to do my homework.
Q. Do you have a favorite composer, composition, or genre of music? Why?
MK: I do not have a favorite composer because I think that every composer serves his/her own purpose as contributors to the world's musical repertoire. Also, I respect all genres of music because there are aspects of each genre that is unique. To me,there is no such thing as a type of music that is the absolute best.
Q. If you could meet one composer or performing artist, who would it be, and why?
MK: The performing artist I want to meet most is the one and only Yo-Yo Ma. He has been my favorite cellist since I began playing cello. Whenever I listen to a piece that I am studying, I try to find recordings of him playing that piece and incorporate certain aspects of his playing style into my own playing.
Q. You have said before that music helps you gain a greater sense of respect for yourself and for other people. Can you please explain your statement in greater detail?
MK: Everyone has a different talent or activity that he/she is passionate about. Usually, if people put huge amounts of time and effort into what they do, they become very proficient in that particular endeavor. Since I have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into music, it helps me to respect what others do even more because I understand the hard work that went into my own craft.
Q. What has been the most interesting or most memorable performance experience in your life so far?
MK: My most memorable performance was the one at the Kennedy Center for the Children's Defense Fund's 40th year anniversary celebration, September 29, 2013. The audience was the warmest audience I had ever encountered. They made me feel very comfortable. Even though there were thousands of people, I felt that I had a personal connection with every single person.
Q. Where do you dream of performing the most?
I dream of performing at the White House before President Obama leaves. I know it will take a miracle, but I believe in miracles! I have always wanted to play for the President.
Q. Besides music, what additional interests do you have?
MK: I have huge interests in computer technology and robotic engineering. I think I can contribute something to the world to make it a better place through something I may create.
Watch Malik's interesting and extremely informative TED talk in the video below: