Life and times of Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi

mutukudziThe late Oliver Mtukudzi

The news that the voice and guitar of Zimbabwean music legend Oliver Mtukudzi has fallen silent sent chilies to many not only in Africa but the world.

Tuku as commonly known died in the intensive care unit at Avenues Clinic in Harare on Wednesday. He died at the age of 66. Before he died, family sources said he was battling a heart ailment.

Coincidentally, his death came exactly one year after his long-time friend and South African musician, Hugh Masekela, died on January 23 last year.

Indications yesterday were that Tuku could be declared a national hero, probably becoming the first musician to be interred at the national shrine.

There was social media buzz over Tuku’s death as fans shared memories of a music icon that touched many lives.

Chimurenga music guru and Tuku’s long-time ally, Thomas Mapfumo described the Tozeza Baba hitmaker’s death as a huge blow to himself and the arts industry.

“The nation has lost a legend, a man who continued to uplift our culture through music. It is my hope that young musicians will continue to carry on the work of Tuku,” he said.

Former Education, Sports, Arts and Culture minister David Coltart posted a condolence message in which he said Tuku made him proud to be Zimbabwean.

“Rest in peace Oliver Mtukudzi. If anyone ever made me proud to be Zimbabwean it was you. Thank you for making us happy for so long, especially during the darkest days,” he said.

National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director Nicholas Moyo said the country was destitute without the icon.

“As a nation, we are mourning the passing on of a great legend. And we feel that a dark cloud has fallen upon the cultural and creative industry. To us, and many others, he was larger than life. His music cuts across generations. I started listening to his music when I was young and still today his music has been appealing to me. He did a lot in the development of young musicians… We are poorer without Oliver,” he said.

Tuku started his music career in 1975 and later expanded his entertainment empire by playing various roles as a singer-songwriter, actor, writer, film director and entrepreneur with interests extending to fashion.

With 66 albums to his name, the Black Spirits frontman developed his own brand of Afro-jazz that became known as Tuku Music, a fine blend of jiti, katekwe, marimba, South African mbaqanga and afro-pop.

Apart from his own Tuku Music label, the music star was also the lead actor in the movies Jiti and Neria, released to high acclaim in the 1990s. He also wrote and directed the musical production, Was My Child.

He was born on September 22, 1952 in Highfield in the then Salisbury. Being the first born in a family of seven, he was endowed with a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life following his father’s death.

In 1977 he joined the Wagon Wheels band and recorded the track, Dzandimomotera, which resonated with many ordinary people at the time as it depicted the black man’s struggles under white minority rule.

Tuku established the Black Spirits in 1978 and released the album, Ndipeiwo Zano, which became an instant hit.

He later recorded many albums with the group, including Africa, which carried the plug tracks Zimbabwe and Madzongonyedze.

Although his music dominated in the 1980s, it was only in the 1990s that it took him beyond the country’s borders as he performed at various music festivals across the world.

When Tuku hired a new manager, Debbie Metcalfe, she revamped his business strategy and helped him realize his full potential, turning Tuku Music into an international brand.

South African musician, Steve Dyer, helped produce his first album, Tuku Music, under the new brand and went gold.

The re-launch of Tuku’s music was largely attributed to that rebranding, with Metcalfe playing a key role, although they would eventually part ways in 2009, during which Tuku’s wife, Daisy, took over as manager.

Between 2014 and 2015, Tuku worked with gospel musician Mathias Mhere in one of his albums, where he features in the song, Tsano Handei. He also did collaborations with EX-Q, Fungisai Zvakavapano and Winky D in projects which were well-received by the market.

In 2011, the Forbes magazine included him in the Top 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa.

The primary message in his music prompted the United Nations to consider him as the Unicef goodwill ambassador in Eastern and Southern Africa for children development and HIV awareness.

During his lengthy music career, Tuku bagged many local and international awards, including the KORA Award for Best Arrangement for Ndakuvara (2002) and SAMA Finalist (Best Traditional/African Adult Contemporary DVD) Live at the Cape Town Jazz Festival (2002).

He received several honorary degrees, including a MSc (Fine Arts) Degree awarded by the Women’s University in Africa (2009), University of Zimbabwe and The International Council of Africana Womanism (ICAW) Award.

This was in recognition of his role in uplifting African women through his artistic work. In 2003, Mtukudzi established Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton to develop young talent in music, dance, drama, poetry, and story-telling.

Mtukudzi is survived by his wife Daisy, five children and two grandchildren.

Friends and family had started gathering at his Norton home yesterday evening although funeral arrangements are yet to be unveiled.

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