Tuku set to light up the gardens
Zimbabwean ‘world music’ legend Oliver Mtukudzi, brings his Black Spirits band to his Kirstenbosch Sunset Concert insidetrack
OLIVER Mtukudzi is in a car somewhere in Africa when his manager answers the call for this interview. They’re driving between shows, and that’s not an unusual thing: Tuku, as he is known to fans and followers worldwide, started performing in 1975 and has released more than 50 albums and a handful of film soundtracks.
He was recently inducted into America’s Afropop Hall of Fame and just played a festival in Uganda: “It was beautiful, the crowd was very responsive and we had such a nice time together”.
He also performed on a doublebill with Ringo Madlingozi, at festivals in Zimbabwe, and plays at Kirstenbosch tomorrow.
We speak on the day of the Qunu funeral service for Nelson Mandela.
“It is a great loss, a disappointing loss,” says Tuku.
“The legacy he left us is something that the whole world has to try and emulate. If everyone could be a bit more like him, then the world would be a better place. Of course, we also have to celebrate his positive beliefs. No one has the excuse of being naughty anymore in Africa; that no longer makes sense.”
Mtukudzi has seen his music gain popularity across the globe. He has also been honoured with awards like Italy’s Cavaliere of the Order of Merit and is a United Nations Children’s Fund goodwill ambassador.
“I’m an artist for the world, born of Zimbabwe,” he says. “When I write my songs, I don’t write them with Zimbabweans in mind, I write songs with people in mind. It’s not easy, it’s a challenge to do that, but it is who I am and who we are: we are all part of global humanity.”
He’s happy to return to Cape Town after headlining the city’s inaugural Cape Town World Music Festival last year, and is bringing his acclaimed Black Spirits band for his Kirstenbosch set.
“I don’t know what I’m going to play, though,” he says. “I am one of the very few artists who does not write a set list before the show, because I don’t know the mood of the day. All I have to fight for, beforehand, is to work out the first song. Then, how the audience responds, is how I know which way to go. An artist brings the songs, but the audience makes the show out of these songs.”
What’s the best thing about being Oliver Mtukudzi?
“Being on stage and sharing, performing to someone. Art is not about the figures of how many people are there: if there is one person or two people, then it can be a performance. I’m lucky that people keep coming, and keep supporting my music and what I do. I hope more people come and listen and learn about Zimbabwean culture, and that I have the opportunity to meet them, and we can enjoy music together.”
Conversely, what’s the worst thing about being Oliver Mtukudzi?
The great man laughs, and then says: “The nervous feeling that comes before performing. Whatever performance I do, whatever size or wherever it is, I feel nervous. But I think that’s normal: if I don’t feel nervous, then there’s no challenge.”
Mtukudzi has always adopted an organic approach to music, and to his playing: “I’m a self-taught guitarist and when I started, some professional guitarists were rushing at me and saying I was learning this thing the wrong way,” he says. “The way I hung over the strings was the way I was comfortable. I did not mean to create my own genre or my own style, it was just how I wanted to play a song. It was a blessing in disguise, having this new kind of style in playing the guitar was what made my fans label it as “Tuku music”, and now this is something that is recognised.”
Last year, Mtukudzi released a compilation titled Abi’angu (Duets Of My Time), a history of his collaborations with artists including Kenya’s Eric Wainaina, Zimbabwe’s Willom Tight and Kudzai Sevenzo, and South African stars Judith Sephuma, Siphokazi and the Jaziel Brothers, as well as the late Cape Verde songstress, Cesaria Evora. He plans a second part to this compilation of duets for next year.
“It is very healthy for us as artists to work together, all artists are unique, so it makes life interesting to learn from each other and to combine our efforts to make music – and to give an offering to our fans. I always enjoy collaborating and I am honestly glad to still have another full CD of these coming. It also opens up the music of Africa to new listeners.”
● Mtukudzi plays at the Old Mutual Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts tomorrow. Gates open at 4pm, concert is 5.30pm to 7pm. Tickets are R85 to R120 from WebTickets. co. za or 021 799 8783/8620). See SANBI.org and OldMutual.co.za/Music
WORLD FAMOUS: Oliver Mtukudzi is back to dazzle Cape Town concertgoers tomorrow.