Internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean musician, philanthropist, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Southern Africa Oliver Mtukudzi, who united the nation in life, is now doing the same even in death.
Both the ruling Zanu-PF party and its main rival the Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa that of late have been trading barbs because of an alleged army and police crackdown on protesters which left more than a dozen people dead, are uniting in mourning Tuku as a national hero. Tuku, as he was affectionately known, succumbed to diabetes at Avenues Clinic in Harare. He was 66.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa sent a letter of condolence to the Tuku family describing him as an ambassador of the nation. “An international icon, the late Dr. Mtukudzi has been our cultural ambassador throughout his illustrious musical career, raising our national flag high wherever he went to perform here at home, on the African continent and throughout the world.”
Mnangagwa said, “He was an expression of Zimbabwean identity, a man of humble character, very affable and engaging in his own unique way through Tuku music.
"On behalf of the government, the party Zanu PF, my family and indeed, on my own behalf, I wish to extend our sincere condolences to the Mtukudzi family, especially his wife, Daisy, and the children, during this their dark hour of grief. May they derive comfort from the knowledge that the arts world in particular and our nation as a whole, share their deep pain and great loss."
MDC president Advocate Chamisa told VOA Zimbabwe Service that even if the government does not lay to rest Tuku at the national shrine in Harare, he remains a national hero to Zimbabweans. “We have lost a giant in the music industry, in the music and the arts we have lost an icon of our culture, of our history, calabash of wisdom.”
He further noted that Mtukudzi was “a man full of sense of humor, a loving father, a great advisor, a mentor to many, a mentor to generations, icon to the nation ... The man who entertained the nation, who educated a nation, who gave wise counsel to the nation.”
Independent Member of Parliament, Temba Mliswa, who worked with Tuku in his Norton constituency where the artist had set base, said he has written a letter to Mnangagwa asking him and his colleagues to declare the late singer a national hero. “I’m writing to the president to apply for his hero status for his national contribution to the music, arts and culture industry.”
Mliswa said, “I want to say that he was a hero in that he unified the nation. Even at a time when Zimbabwe was going through a tough time, economically, his music projected Zimbabwe. He raised the flag for Zimbabwe at every level. Zimbabwe was known because of Oliver Mtukudzi.
"He was the Ambassador for Zimbabwe. He went across the world and never said anything bad about his country, but sang well about his country, and this is something I believe is critical.”
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information Nick Mangwana called Tuku a global symbol of Zimbabwe art and culture. “Zimbabwe’s music is poorer without Tuku as he was affectionately known."
He added that “music never dies, and the rich legacy he has left us is here to stay. Generations to come will still enjoy Tuku music.”
Vice president of the opposition MDC-T Obert Gutu also hailed the late artist as an icon. “It's absolutely devastating and extremely sad! An icon has fallen! This is not only a loss to the Mtukudzi family, it's also a loss to Zimbabwe, to Africa and indeed, to the whole of humanity.”
Gutu said, “Through his music, Tuku touched millions of hearts around the globe. He was an immensely talented composer, with a husky and inimitable voice. He sang about love, about social justice and about the trials and tribulations of human existence. Tuku is a national hero. Anyway, heroes don't die! Legends don't die! They simply go home to rest! Rest in Power, Samanyanga!”
Musicians in Zimbabwe and South Africa also saluted Tuku as an inspirational artist. Zimbabwean musician Sulumani Chimbetu told VOA Diaspora Forum live broadcast that he worked with Tuku and his music is ageless, cutting across all generations.
Sungura musician Alec Macheso told VOA Zimbabwe Service he was devastated by the death. “This is sad news, personally I am at a loss for words. I am hurt.”
Tuku, alongside another living legend, Thomas Mapfumo, are credited for inspiring liberation war fighters during the 1970s anti-colonial struggle. Professor Alec Pongweni in a book titled, “Songs That Won the Liberation War”, credits Tuku, Mapfumo, Zexie Manatsa, Cde Chinx and other musicians for the role they played during the liberation war.
"These revolutionary songs provided the means by which political conscientisation was achieved and moral support generated among the masses."
Pongweni writes that the songs of resistance are known as “Chimurenga” because they derive from and embrace a common cultural milieu and because they are songs of an unhappy people, the children of disappointment. Despite the brutality meted on those who resisted colonial Rhodesian rule under the late Prime Minister Ian Smith, Tuku continued to sing protests songs.
Writes Tuku on his website: “Before independence it was the fight against the Rhodesian regime.”
He further states that, “my music was against oppression and a repressive regime and how we were suffering at the hands of that regime (Smith).”
Under Wagon Wheels Band, songs like Dzandimomotera were about hope, encouraging the black majority not to give up. Dzandimomotera, in fact, is a prayer of a troubled man. Through clever use of language, Tuku subtly attacked the Rhodesians.
POST COLONIAL ZIMBABWE
In 1980 after a protracted armed struggle, Zimbabwe attained independence from colonial rule. But the nation was in turmoil again as former President Robert Mugabe who was to be toppled by the military in November 2017 was accused of employing the same tactics used by Smith to oppress the people.
Tuku and Mapfumo, though using different approaches, continued to be the voice of the voiceless. Mapfumo, who is more blunt and direct in his music, was forced into exile in America. But Tuku continued to sing songs in a more enigmatic way, throwing political barbs at the ageing president Mugabe.
One such classic is the song Wasakara. The song, which urges people to accept old age, became an anthem for the opposition in Zimbabwe. Tuku though denied that he was taking aim at Mr. Mugabe. He also has one such song, Chiwepu native Shona for whip or sjambok, on his 66th Studio album Hany’ga. Chiwepu is a caution to leaders to avoid using force every time there is a protest or to solve a crisis.
Over his four decades career in music, Tuku received several awards, honorary degrees and recognition from several local and international organizations, universities and governments around the world. In 2014, the music maestro was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Ethno-Musicology at the Great Zimbabwe University.
Tuku, whose music served as the backdrop for over 25 AIDS documentaries across the world, was a celebrated cultural icon. Last year he was accorded a special recognition for his “inspiration and enduring commitment to ending Aids”, through the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle, Washington state.
In 2015, Mtukudzi was presented with another Lifetime Achievement Award by NTM Global Promotions in conjunction with the Association of Zimbabweans in Calgary, Canada. In the same year, the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture recognized him for his “Outstanding Life Long Contribution to the South African Music Industry”.
He is also a Reel Award Winner for Best African Language, has a KORA award for Best African Male Artiste & Life Time Achievement, and is the Cultural Ambassador— courtesy of the Zimbabwe Tourism Association and Project Concern International.
Mtukudzi has also collaborated with many renowned artists including the late anti-apartheid music icon, Hugh Masekela who ironically died on January 23, 2018 the same day Tuku passed on. Tuku described Masekela as a "three decade old friend, mentor and brother."
One of their memorable projects was in 2012, when “Bra Hugh” supported Tuku’s birthday bash at Carnival City near Johannesburg, dubbed One Night Africa, which featured a star studded line of artistes namely Judith Sephuma, Steve Dyer, Siphokazi and Zahara.
Tuku also collaborated with Grammy Award winning British artist and actor, Joss Stones. The late Zimbabwean icon also worked with South African music star Ringo Mandlingosi on the internationally acclaimed song “Into Yami”. He also worked with the likes of Blacksmith Black Mambazo and Afro Tenor. In Zimbabwe, Tuku worked with the likes of Winky D, Jah Prayzah, Fungisai Zvakavapano, Sulumani Chimbetu, the late James Chimombe and others.
TUKU THE ACTOR
Tuku also featured in the 1993 movie Neria, a classic African film that has struck a nerve that runs across the continent about inheritance that excludes widows. Tuku produced an original soundtrack for the film.
Tuku in an exclusive interview with VOA Studio 7 for Zimbabwe when he was touring America said he best wanted to be remembered for his efforts to assist the less privileged in society and this inspired him to build Pakare Paye Arts Centre to help upcoming artists.
Founded and established in 2003 the centre is a performance platform for developing and fostering young talent in many practical artistic endeavors particularly music, dance, drama, poetry and storytelling.
The centre has played a crucial role in nurturing artists such as Tsvete band and Munyaradzi Mataruse.
It has received support from organizations such as the Culture Fund in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden and Nyaradzo Group. Artists who have graced the festival include Soukaina Edom, Winky D, Chirikure Chirikure, Hope Masike, Virginia Phiri, and Dominic Benhura among others.