“My biggest obsession is to show Africans and the world who the people of Africa really are.” These words came from Hugh Masekela, South Africa’s music icon who succumbed to prostate cancer on January 23, 2018, exactly the same date that his Zimbabwean counterpart, Oliver Mtukudzi, died one year later. Oliver Mtukudzi died at The Avenues Clinic on January 23, 2019.
By Fred Zindi
I remember vividly attending his last birthday bash and album launch on September 22, 2017 at Pakare Paye where I was guest of honour.
It was around 4pm on September 21, 2017 when Oliver Mtukudzi called me: “Hey Professor, this is Tuku, I have been thinking about the people who know my history well and are able to tell the story of my life to the invited guests at my album launch tomorrow at 10am I know you know my whole story, so can you please be my guest speaker at the album launch?”
I was in the middle of marking some masters’ degree students’ assignments and I needed time to think about his request. So, I said to him: “Let me call you back later when I have thought about it, I called back half an hour later and the phone was answered by Pakare Paye manager Watson Chidzomba.
Chidzomba explained to me what Mtukudzi wanted and I began to agonise on what to say as Tuku has a long history. Apart from the launch of his 65th album, Eheka Nhai Yahwe, it was also his birthday the next day. Given our long relationship in the music industry, and because of my allegiance to my hero, it was almost impossible to turn down that request.
The next day I went to Pakare Paye where I joined the album launch ceremony and his 65th birthday celebrations.
After a prayer from Reverend Muzarari and a few introductions from Daisy Mtukudzi, it was time for a scrumptious lunch.. Thanks to Daisy’s Kitchen at Pakare Paye.
After lunch, it was time for my speech. I asked myself on whether I should begin by saying how Tuku at the age of 10 danced on top of a table before his parents or whether I should talk about some of his 65 classic releases which I remembered such as Chikonzi, Nyanga Ye Nzou, Shanda, Shoko, Ziwere, Chinhambwe, Ivai Navo, Mukombe We Mvura. Maungira, Tuku Music, Nhava, Rudaviro, Ndega Zvangu, Svovi Yangu, Dairai, Sarawoga, Ndega Zvangu, Paivepo, Bvuma-Tolerance, Vhunze Moto, Tsivo, Tsimba Itsoka and Dairai. Where to begin and what to include in the speech became a big problem. What remained stuck on my mind over the years I had known Tuku was the album Sugar Pie. He recorded it alone under duress after the Black Spirits Band had deserted him due to a dispute over pay way back in 1988. He was desperate to find musicians to help him. I couldn’t help him as the studio was already booked. So, he decided to go it alone. He played everything, guitar, bass drums and voice-overs. It did not come out well and he told me that he was about to quit music. I remember giving him encouragement to continue. He did. His success came much later in the 1990s.
These are some of the things I mentioned at Pakare Paye.
Since 1990, Tuku has toured around the world plying his musical trade. Countries visited include Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia. The UK the US, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Kenya and Tanzania, to mention only a few. During that period he also did musical collaborations with many world-famous international artistes such as Hugh Masekela, Lady Jay Dee Mimi, James Chimombe, Sulumani Chimbetu, Joss Stone, Afro Tenors, Willom Tight, Gary Tight, Winky D., Jah Prayzah, Busiswa, Bonnie Deuchle, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Stewart Sukuma, Berita, Fungisai Zvakavapano, Taj Mahal, Baaba Maal, Carlos Santana, Louis Mhlanga, Steve Dyer, Lucky Dube, Judith Sephuma Ringo Madlingozi and many more.
I also spoke about his 40 years of music adventure, the many awards he received which include Zima, Nama, REEL Award, MTN Sama Award, Italian Order of Merit Award Kora Award and many more. Only this last week, while he was in hospital, he was also given the recent Coca-Cola Radio Zimbabwe honorary award.
In 2013, he became Unicef’s regional Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa and that in the same year he was inducted into the Afro-Pop Hall of Fame in New York in the United States after performing in front of 10 000 New Yorkers at the Central Park Summer Stage festival. The superstar seemed genuinely moved by the acknowledgement when he received the honour from Georges Collinet of Afro-pop Worldwide. 2013 was also an important year for Tuku as he appeared on the front page of the prestigious and important international Time Magazine, which to me, showed that he had achieved international recognition.
In addition, the superstar was honoured with a doctorate in ethnomusicology and choreography by the Great Zimbabwe University.
He is also behind the construction of Pakare Paye Arts Centre, which houses the Sam Mtukudzi Conference Centre, which was named in honour of his late son, a music performance venue, overnight accommodation, a restaurant, a state-of-the-art music recording studio and rehearsal rooms. It will take a whole book to mention all his achievements.
Tuku connected very well with many people. He had time to take selfies and sign autographs whenever the occasion occurred.
I vividly remember Sam Mataure, Dominic Benhura, Sulumani Chimbetu, Terence Mapurisana, Munya Viyali, Stanley Kasukuwere, Bob Nyabinde, Fashionist Jackie, Enock Piroro, Mthandazo Dube and a bunch of other journalists from various media houses being at the function and taking pictures.
When I heard that Mtukudzi had passed on, I was in shock. My immediate reaction was: “God, why did you not take someone else instead of Tuku?” Yes we all die. The goal is not to live forever. The goal is to create something that will live forever like Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky of the 19th century. We still read about these 19th century musicians. We can also write books and academic papers on Mtukudzi. In my eyes, Tuku’s music will appeal to many generations to come but it still needed more creativity, and at 66, he still had the power and energy to do so. So, why take him now? Besides, he needed to nurture some younger musicians, especially those who think that with one hit song, they can now start to act superior and arrogant. Tuku was known for his humility. He was not obsessed with his own importance and he always lowered himself and his estimate to both his friends and fans. People I have spoken to in the past think that this was due to the fact that he understood the struggles of ordinary people and that he was older and more mature when he achieved success.
With 66 albums recorded, either fire, wind, birth or death can erase Tuku’s good works.
It is so sad to lose such a great artiste. Mtukudzi was one of the greatest artistes to emerge from Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe will never have another Oliver Mtukudzi. He touched everyone’s heart and soul. He had a song for everyone and for every season. His lyrics often carried social messages such as HIV and Aids and often subtle political commentary as found in Bvuma. His last album Hany’ga which was released last year in February also contained many political and social messages.
There are so many things to write about Mtukudzi, but that will require a book. This obituary is just a drop in the ocean for his larger-than-life existence.
His death has robbed Zimbabwe of a most renowned and internationally recognised cultural icon of all time, not mentioning the loss to his family and surviving children. May his dear soul rest in peace!