Zimbabwe music legend Tuku opens door to new talent
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.”