Wednesday, June 3, 2020

“The Tuku Years” 1952 ÔÇô 2019

VICTOR BAATWENG – a self confessed “groupie” of Mtukudzi looks back at the “Tuku Years”.

Make a quick desktop research for any newspaper/radio or even television interview that Oliver Mtukudzi did. It will point to one thing. The music doctor understood the responsibility that came with having a great gift and he did not let anything stand in the way of using his talent (music) to heal and change lives of many across the globe. Actually he has been quoted so many times saying, “purpose of song is to give life and hope to the people – to heal broken hearts”. But now this prophet of song has joined his counterparts in the likes Lucky Dube and Bob Marley. He died of diabetes in his home country – Zimbabwe on 23rd January 2018 at the age of 66. His fans across the globe spent most this week reflecting on the impact that this global icon had on many lives through his guitar.

Actually Mtukudzi’s successful music career can traced back to a toy guitar that he received from his father as a kid-present. It is the same toy guitar that marked the beginning of a well travelled journey of African folklore stories.

Here is how it all started.

It happened that one good day when coming back from work, Mtukudzi’s father brought him a toy. As mentioned above, that toy was a guitar. In sharing this story, Mtukudzi emphasise that the guitar was given to his father as gift by his employer. His (Mtukudzi’s) father then passed it on to the man who now we all know as a master story teller across the globe. 

With his guitar and a husky voice, Mtukudzi grew to become the most recognized voice to emerge from Zimbabwe into the African continent and the international scene. Through his 66 music albums, Mtukudzi has earned a devoted following across Africa including in Botswana and beyond. A member of Zimbabwe’s KoreKore tribe, Tuku mostly sang in the nation’s dominant Shona language along with Ndebele and English. He also incorporated elements of different musical traditions, giving his music a distinctive style, known to fans as “Tuku Music”. Over he years Mtukudzi has had a number of tours around the world. In Botswana he headlined a year after another the popular #Mascom Live Session held at Botswana Craft in the capital Gaborone. He has also performed as far as Maun. In the region Mtukudzi also regularly performed at the annual MTN Bushfire music festival held in Eswatini (Swaziland) and Lesotho’s Tourism music festival.

Reflecting on his teenage years, surprisingly Mtukudzi said the guitar gift from his father was not his favourite or highly prized possession. He told a Zimbabwean television show in the early 90s that, “The guitar was something to play with but I loved the bicycle more than anything else”.

Interestingly, and decades later, because of that guitar, Botswana, along the rest of the world has been able to watch and listen to the legend from across the border doing what he was born to-do –  telling our stories, African stories through a song.

Tuku – as he is affectionately known amongst his followers, began his professional music career in 1977 when he joined the Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo. The USA based Mapfumo just like Tuku is known for singing about issues that affect everyday life of Africans. But unlike Mapfumo, Mtukudzi had chosen to lean more on Shona proverbs for wisdom when doing that. Although he refrained from directly criticizing the government of the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Tuku wrote a song and named it “Wasakara”, meaning you are old. This was at a time when everyone was calling for Mugabe to step down. The song was banned in radio stations in Zimbabwe as it was seen as a direct attack on President Mugabe. This also saw his temporary relocation to neighbouring South Africa.

In general, Mtukudzi’s work – dubbed “Tuku music” – is a mixture of ethnic styles, including the Zulu-rooted mbaqanga from South Africa, and drew on diverse instruments, including Zimbabwe’s mbira, a metal-tined, hand-held instrument.

His message in the 66th albums he made over the years ranges from issues relating to child marriage down to the economic meltdown and worries about a lack of concern for human life – he tackled it all.

“Pain, frustration, joy, education, misery ÔÇö songs come out of all situations,” he said. “I only take the experiences I feel that my listener will also take personally.”

In the eyes of most of his followers Mtukudzi was a man of the people. A man who sang from the heart and was candid as he expressed himself clearly through song. He always reminded, through song, the crowd before him and his Black Spirit band that his fame rested on solid pride in his African culture, his Ubuntu and his focus on what mattered most to his life – People. It was quiet clear that he found so much value in the people and spent so much time investing in various projects to make people stay focused and be together.

His activism won him critical acclaim when he was appointed the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to raise Aids awareness in Eastern and Southern Africa. In fact most of his lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.

Mtukudzi dies at a time when Zimbabwe is embroiled in violence sparked by protest against increasing fuel costs. Like a true prophet of song, he had written a song called “Moto-Moto” which basically calls for peace and end end to violence. Given the respect he had in his home country,  there is hope that Zimbabweans will use his death to unite again and rebuild their country. On Thursday he became the fourth non-political figure to be conferred hero status.

In Zimbabwe, a national hero status is the highest honour that can be conferred on an individual and the recipients are entitled to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre.

The hero status is conferred by the president, “where the President considers that any deceased person who was a citizen of Zimbabwe has deserved well of his country on account of outstanding, distinctive and distinguished service,” reads Zimbabwe’s National Heroes Act.

Tuku was a father of five children and had two grandchildren. He is expected to be burried this coming week. May His Soul Rest In Peace. (Todiii…What shall we do?

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