Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, gone too soon

THURSDAY (Today) marks the first anniversary of the late legend, Oliver Mtukudzi’s death. A dark cloud enveloped Zimbabwe and indeed the region and beyond on this day last year when news filtered that musician Mtukudzi had passed on at a local hospital, succumbing to diabetes at the age of 66 after a long illness.
Leaving us with a belt of 65 albums, a number yet to be surpassed by any other musician in the country, the late national hero was a musician par excellence who raised the country’s flag high on the international arena.
Todii, Neria, Tozeza baba, Wasakara, Tsika Dzedu, Ndagarwa Nhaka, Perekedza Mwana are some of the popular hits.
Social media was awash with condolence messages and in Zimbabwe the women folk initiated a dress code, Dhuku for Tuku, and it was all black and a headwrap during the late legendary’s mourning period.
Evidence of his selfless nature and humility was the enormous number of selfies that the ordinary Zimbabweans had with Tuku being posted on their Whatsapp statuses and on Facebook, Instagram, you name it.
Tuku became one of the few artists to be declared a national hero though his family chose to have him buried at his family home in Madziwa, Mashonaland Central. He drew love from people of diverse interests, politicians, business people, artists and the ordinary person who all came together to mourn their departed hero
Samanyanga, as he was affectionately known by his legion of fans, a name drawn from his totem, collaborated with various greats such as Hugh Masekela, Ringo Madlingozi, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bonnie Deuschle, Winky D and Berita Khumalo among others.
His friend with whom he conquered the African music scene, Bra Hugh, coincidentally died on the same day two years before him.
Mtukudzi grew up in Highfield, Harare and was the eldest of seven siblings. While both his parents sang in a choir, they were initially not supportive of his continued interest in music, consequently breaking his first homemade guitar.
He began performing in 1977 when he joined the Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo and fellow legendary guitarist James Chimombe. They were given the rare opportunity by Paul Tangi Mhova Mkondo, an African nationalist and music promoter, who provided money and resources to the group.
With the support of Mutanga, the prayers and blessings of Amai Mutanga, he allowed them to perform at Mutanga Restaurant & Night Club in Harare which, at the time, was the first and only African licensed night club available for blacks under Rhodesia’s policy of segregation. Their single Dzandimomotera went gold and Tuku’s first album followed, which was also a major success. Mtukudzi is also a contributor to Mahube, Southern Africa’s “supergroup”.
Mtukudzi became the most recognised voice to emerge from Zimbabwe and onto the international scene and he has earned a devoted following across Africa and beyond. He also incorporated elements of different musical traditions, giving his music a distinctive style, known to fans as Tuku Music.
Mtukudzi held tours around the world. He was on several tours in the UK, US and Canada to perform for large audiences. Mtukudzi was a father of five children. Two of his children are also musicians. His son Sam Mtukudzi, a successful musician in his own right, died in a car accident in March 2010 and in 2013, he released an album titled “Sarawoga”, in tribute to his son. Prior to the independence of Zimbabwe, Mtukudzi’s music depicted the struggles under Rhodesian white minority rule. In subsequent years following the country’s independence, his music advocated for tolerance and peace and frequently portrayed the struggles of women and children.
Besides music, Mtukudzi was a businessperson, philanthropist, human rights activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Southern Africa Region. Tuku was considered to have been Zimbabwe’s most renowned and internationally recognised cultural icon of all time.