Tuku: Zimbabwe’s Global Music Icon

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

NO-ONE has managed to take Zimbabwean music to dizzying, worldwide heights and make a success of it as much as prolific musician, performer, composer and guitarist, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, has done. With his husky voice, supplemented by provocative lyrics and a sound that is at once African and global, Mtukudzi has managed to win millions of loyal fans – both young and old, black and white – both in Zimbabwe and the world over.

There is no single doubt that Mtukudzi is an iconic artist whose works have traversed boundaries and gone where Zimbabwean music has never been before. For Mtukudzi, its certainly been a journey of both labour and love, but true to the adage that perseverance pays, the longs years that he took to sharpen his musical prowess have certainly paid off.

Born in 1952 in Highfield, Harare, the award-winning singer songwriter began performing in 1977 with the Wago Wheels, a band which also featured popular Zimbabwean chimurenga musician, Thomas Mapfumo. Their single, “Dzandimomotera,” went gold, and put them in the musical limelight at that time.

Mtukudzi, aka, Tuku, also referred to and Nzou Samanya after his elephant totem sings predominantly in Shona, but has done work in Ndebele and English and other languages from the Southern African region. In fact, Mtukudzi has done collaborations with many musicians from countries such as South Africa, Malawi among others. Apart from that, Mtukudzi has toured many countries around the world, wowing fans with his musical magic.

With his husky voice, he has become the most recognized voice to emerge from Zimbabwe and onto the intern, ational scene and he has earned a devoted following across Africa and beyond. A member of Zimbabwe’s KoreKore tribe,Nzou Samanyanga as his totem, he sings in the nation’s dominant Shona language along with Ndebele and English. He also incorporates elements of different musical traditions, giving his music a distinctive style, known to fans as “Tuku Music”. Mtukudzi has had a number of tours around the world. He has been on several tours in the UK, USA and Canada to perform for large audiences.

During his 33-year career, Mtukudzi has produced over 50 album, and is still going strong, producing albums, doing live shows both locally and internationally, working with young musicians and embarking on an ambitious community arts project, called Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton, his hometown. The multi-functional centre will house the Sam Mtukudzi Conference Centre, dedicated to Mtukudzi’s son who tragically passed away last year, cutting short the life of one of Zimbabwe fledgling musical talents. Only God knows the heights Sam would have climbed especially with his father’s musical genius that ran through him.

Already, the centre has taken talented school leavers off the streets to be developed in music, drama, film, storytelling, poetry, et cetera. The centre also hosts a variety of events among major festivals. Clearly, there is another side to Tuku; he’s not only a musician, he’s an agent of social change.

Mtukudzi has won numerous awards and was featured in Time Africa’s article entitled ‘The People’s Voice’ with his picture on the front cover. At the 2003 Kora African Music Awards, Tuku won not only the Best Male Artist: Southern Africa Award but also the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, Mtukudzi was awarded an Honorary M.Sc in Fine Arts by the Women’s University in Africa. The other awards that he has received are simply too many to mention.

Mtukudzi’s unique, electrifying beat blends traditional Zimbabwean sound fused with modern instrumentation with lyrics that are rich in imagery and meaning.  His appealing voice, captivating guitar rhythms and superb dance moves make his live performances quite a mind-blowing experience. As well as performing and recording music Mtukudzi has starred in two major Zimbabwean movies, Jit (1990) and Neria (1991),which received wide acclaim.

If anything, the overriding theme in all his music is self-discipline – an outstanding human quality in Mtukudzi himself as attested by his 33-year perseverance in the music industry.

According to Tuku, his philosophy is that as long as mankind exists, there will always be something to talk about. And if there is something to talk about there will always something to sing about.

There is no doubt that Mtukudzi, who is affectionately known by his legion of fans as Tuku, short for Mtukudzi, has found and lives his life’s purpose, and will go down in history as a true musical legend, not only of Zimbabwe or Africa, but the world as a whole.

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