Catch­ing up with Oliver Mtukudzi

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - HEIN KAISER

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.

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