Catching up with Oliver Mtukudzi
IT’S A crisp morning in Harare and Oliver Mtukudzi is having breakfast in one of the city’s trendier spots, the ironically named Pariah State.
Dressed in a tweed jacket, his trademark cap and manbag, one of southern Africa’s biggest stars and largest music exports could have been anyone sitting having breakfast with the regulars, had it not been for the other patrons stealing looks, pointing and sharing whispers about Zimbabwe’s legendary performer.
Oliver Mtukudzi’s four decade-plus career has, after all, turned him into a superstar.
Quiet and unassuming, Nzou – as he is affectionately known, after his totem, which means elephant – says he has managed to sustain his career through a simple rule of thumb, taking his music to the people.
“Nobody would hear my music if I simply relied on releasing albums and hoping for radio play,” he says.
“Since the beginning of my career I have taken my music to my audience, relentlessly performing and touring, building an audience wherever I go.” He adds when he is on the road, in communion with people, he finds much of his inspiration to write.
“Engaging with people I am fortunate to meet, listening to their stories, being inspired by every day’s trials.”
Gifted with a gutsy deep voice, Mtukudzi’s style is described as Tuku Music, taken from his last name, pointing to his unique style he developed by blending many southern African styles, including mbaqanga, mbira and traditional Korekore drumming styles.
Mtukudzi, 64, has performed across the world, sharing stages with the likes of Lucky Dube and working alongside Peter Gabriel during his hugely successful World of Music and Dance World Music Festivals.
Bonnie Raitt, a huge fan, has recorded several of his songs and likened Mtukudzi’s talent to that of Otis Redding.
It began in 1975 when he released his first single, Stop After Orange, followed by a two-year stint in a band dubbed The Wagon Wheels. By 1979, however, Mtukudzi was back on a solo path and formed The Black Spirits, whose debut track Dzandimomotera rose to gold status.
Between recording albums and performing, Mtukudzi also has a passion for film, and acted in the first feature that featured an all Zimbabwean cast, Jit. He also penned the soundtrack for its followup, Neria, earning him an M-Net award in 1992 for best soundtrack.
His groundbreaking album Tuku Music spent 11 weeks at Number 1 on the CMJ World Music Charts. This was followed by several more charttopping releases towards the end of the millennium.
Despite being a superstar, Mtukudzi is a reluctant hero: “To me, success is taking my message to the people and the mutual appreciation we have for one another. When I become a celebrity I will tell you what it feels like,” he laughs.
Oliver Mtukudzi, a superstar versed in humility.