Zim­babwe mu­sic leg­end Tuku opens door to new tal­ent

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - World -

NOR­TON, Zim­babwe — If you’ve ever dreamed of play­ing along­side Afro-jazz leg­end Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, just drop into his stu­dio in Zim­babwe and pick up an in­stru­ment.

Mtukudzi — one of Africa’s most fa­mous and ad­mired mu­si­cians — has an open-door pol­icy at his arts cen­ter in Nor­ton, 50 kilo­me­ters west of Harare.

Aged 65 and with more than 60 al­bums un­der his belt, the self-taught singer and gui­tarist says the cen­ter pro­vides a home for all mu­si­cians, par­tic­u­larly young­sters who of­ten face dis­ap­proval from their par­ents at home.

Named “Pakare Paye”, which trans­lates as “same old place” in the Shona lan­guage, it charges no fees, em­ploys no tu­tors and fol­lows no cur­ricu­lum.

“This is not a school,” Mtukudzi said dur­ing a break from re­hearsals at the sprawl­ing com­plex of thatched and brick one-story build­ings.

“We don’t deal with ed­u­ca­tion here — we deal with tal­ent. A col­lege says, ‘we will teach you’ but we say ‘you have got it, let’s learn’.”

The husky-voiced Mtukudzi, whose stage name is Tuku, said he started to plan the cen­ter af­ter re­al­iz­ing the prob­lems he con­fronted in the 1970s when he be­gan singing still ex­isted.

Zim­bab­wean par­ents of­ten frown on the arts as a pro­fes­sion, pre­fer­ring their chil­dren take up ca­reers in the law or medicine.

Seek­ing a men­tor

For decades, young artists seek­ing a sup­port­ive men­tor would head to Mtukudzi’s house in the town of Kwekwe, car­ry­ing their song scripts or just show­ing off their danc­ing and chore­og­ra­phy stunts.

His daugh­ter Shami jokes that “our house was the first arts cen­ter”, re­count­ing how the home was flooded with as­pir­ing artists.

“These chil­dren are not ap­pre­ci­ated at home, they are look­ing for some­where to be ap­pre­ci­ated and I of­fer that,” Mtukudzi said.

“Then I thought — let me look for a place where I can at­tend to the young­sters.”

Set on a three-hectare plot and equipped with a record­ing stu­dio, multiple in­door and out­door stages and ac­com­mo­da­tion chalets, the cen­ter has fos­tered many mu­si­cians and per­form­ers since it was opened in 2004.

Mtukudzi al­lows stu­dents to just come along and try out in­stru­ments.

He lis­tens care­fully and when he has iden­ti­fied which ones they are good at, he en­cour­ages them to prac­tice hard.

His ap­proach is to set them on the path to be­com­ing self­taught, like he was, rather than be­ing the teacher, but he helps them later on to fine­tune their tal­ent.

Gui­tarist Rod­well Roda, 33, is one grad­u­ate who started mu­sic when he was just 14 years old.

“My par­ents did not want me to play a gui­tar,” said Roda, who now plays in Tuku’s res­i­dent band, The Black Spirits.

“So I used to bor­row a gui­tar from friends and prac­tice out­side.

“The mo­ment I came here, I started to learn more things, and learnt to be more humble ... It doesn’t mean to play with him, you have to have pride.”

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