Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Zimbabwe’s most celebrated artist, died at Harare’s Avenues Clinic after battling diabetes for years. An inimitable lyricist and charismatic performer, he was a shining beacon on the African continent and abroad, not only for creatives but for politicians too. This devoted fighter for the rights of women and children was a trailblazer on the Zimbabwean music scene, who set a high musical standard that can only be matched by a few brave hearts who preserve African cultural heritage by boldly expressing themselves through their craft without thinking they are inferior to any other culture.
Tuku, as he was affectionately known by fans and music lovers the world over, released his 66th album last year. In the course of his career he performed across the length and the breath of the world, dazzling millions on all five continents.
His unique artistry, characterised by his husky voice and dexterous strumming of the acoustic guitar, saw him scoop several accolades around the globe, being awarded honourary degrees and being incorporated into the Afro Pop Hall of Fame. This placed him alongside other legends such as Salif Keita, Habib Koite, Youssou N’Dour and his fellow countryman Thomas Mapfumo and his group, Mokoomba.
Tuku believed in the power of collaboration and performed superbly with the likes of Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Berita, Grammy winner Joss Stone, Afro Tenors, Hugh Masekela and Louis Mhlang. One of his biggest hits, the song “Into Yami”, was with Ringo Madlingozi.
Oliver Mtukudzi was born on 22 September 1952 in one of Harare’s popular and oldest high-density suburbs, Highfield. He was the oldest of seven children and because of the untimely death of his father, he had to quickly evolve from being a young lad to the leader of his family.
He started his music career way back in 1975 with the single titled “Stop After Orange”. However, in 1977 he ditched his solo career and started performing with the group Wagon Wheels.
In 1979, he broke away from the group with some of its members and formed the Black Spirits. They released their debut single, “Dzandimomotera”, which sold enough copies to qualify for gold record status. When Zimbabwe got her independence in 1980, Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits released their fourth album, Africa, widely seen as one of the most important albums of its time. The album contained the hit track “Mazongonyedze”.
While Tuku rose to prominence for his outspoken criticism of white oppression, he continued his social commentary after Zimbabwe’s independence. His criticism of poor and corrupt governance saw some of his songs being banned in his home country.
With his music career shaping up well, the singer spread his wings and ventured into film. He featured in productions such as Jit and Neria – for which he also composed and arranged the soundtrack.
The brilliance of Neria saw him scoop M-Net’s award for Best Soundtrack in 1992. The legend went on to write and direct the musical production Was My Child. Tuku’s biggest break on the international music scene came in 1999, when he released the album Tuku Music. From there on, he started touring all over the world, performing to thousands at some of the world’s biggest music festivals.
Despite all the fame and wealth acquired in his life, Samanyanga, as he is called according to his totem, remained a tolerant and humble man.
“Tuku was the very epitome of hunhu/ubuntu. His greatest gift to mankind, especially Africa, was humility, honesty, thoughtfulness and care, which he pushed for to the last breath in his craft and conversations. These are qualities we all struggle for,” said veteran theatre practitioner and current president of Arterial Network, Daves Guzha.
Oliver Mtukudzi, singer-songwriter, businessman, philanthropist and filmmaker, born 22 September 1952, died 23 January 2019.