Tuku interview with Daily News

HARARE - The Daily News Entertainment Editor, Margaret Chinowaita (MC) interviewed Oliver Mtukudzi (OM) at his Pakare Arts Centre in Norton to mark his 60th birthday.
MC: You have survived for the last 60 years while other musicians of your era and some younger dumped the music industry or passed away. What can you attribute this to? What strategies have you used as a musician to survive this long?

OM: It is obvious it is God’s grace.

MC: You have managed as a musician to produce major hits over a remarkable period - how have you managed to be this consistent?

OM: I do not compose hits; I create songs that people make hits.

MC: But how can you explain this consistency of brilliance in producing music?

OM: I would never have produced any of my music if I was not sure of what I was doing. It will not have survived. Every time I release a song it is often my best effort. The purpose of song is to give life and hope to people.

To heal a broken heart, it is a form of art. Art as a whole from visual arts, dance and others is meant to heal people from day to day living stresses.

I see it as medicine provided by God through artists. A song has a purpose, what you say is a song, the words in it - not the instruments.

Instruments become the flavour to songs. Words are important.

MC: If one listens to your songs they seem to portray a certain time in Zimbabwean people’s lives.

OM: Years on from now my music will still mean the same. I do not produce periodical hits. I produce music with a staying power that is timeless. It will mean something today and tomorrow. It will always heal people. A good song is a song that heals people no matter what or when.

MC: You have won many awards - ranging from local NAMA, regional Kora and international awards including being recognized by the Government of Italy and United Nations Agencies like Unicef- how can you describe the feeling of winning an award?

OM: Awards inspire me - they do not just come when you have not done anything. Receiving an award is good but I always get humbled by being nominated.

Being nominated for an award say for outstanding song or for singing for the cause of women or children or any other award is good for me. I feel being recognized for my work, I feel that people are listening and appreciating my music. When I am nominated year after year, I really relish it.

It brings the feeling that I am consistent and I am relevant to society and that people are realising my God-given talent and art in good light.

It offers a feeling that I am moving with the people.

MC: Which award do you regard highly?

OM: All awards are the same. They reveal your consistency, that you are not lowering your standards in healing the populace which is the purpose of art.

MC: How many awards have you won?

OM: I have lost count - they are quite a number.

MC: Who is Oliver the man?

OM: My father called me Oliver in 1952 in September when I was born on a Monday at 3am. From that day the Oliver who later made music that people made hits and the one who is looking for a song to compose is the same man. I have never changed.

MC: What is your secret to being humble - sometimes you are seen at car parks eating Sadza among the common people and you also dine with notable captains of industries with equal ease- what is your secret?

OM: An individual is just an individual, what you do does not matter; one should always maintain his or her essence of being a human being hunhu in Shona.

People often get lost when they detour from being real humans, when they think they are larger than life, they get lost. There is need to separate what an individual is capable of accomplishing.

It does not matter that a person is famous or wealthy, it is important to maintain your dignity and your personhood (hunhu). Popularity can be obtained from anything; you can become popular through devious means such as theft.

What we do when we become famous all depends on us and it makes an impact on our lives and that of others.

MC: What kind of support did you receive from other musicians in your formative years?

OM: Zexie Manatsa is one of those who really helped me when I was starting. I used to perform as a supporting act at his shows. My band got so much exposure from performing at his shows; he lifted me up.

God created it that way, one artiste mentors another and in turn the mentored will also become a mentor later. My parents and family also supported me.

MC: How did your wife impacted your career?

OM: I have discovered that women are extremists that you find one extremely nice and others extremely on the other side. A woman who is moderate is often a rare find. I am so lucky to have Daisy.

I could not have survived this far in music if it was not for her. She is a pillar that I lean on; words cannot explain how grateful I am to have her. It is hard for a woman to understand that her husband truly loves music that he goes out to perform all night and come back home with nothing in the morning.

It is also difficult for a woman to understand that when the money starts coming in she has to prioritize buying a guitar not only for her husband but for the band as well and forego a pedicure or other luxuries. Daisy has been my minister of finance at home and has assisted me to focus on our development.

I have seen fellow musicians fall on the wayside because of pressures from partners who do not understand them. We could not have had Pakare Paye Arts centre if it was not for Daisy.

MC: What are your thoughts on music piracy?

OM: I really hate piracy. As musicians we take our time and money to produce and record our music and you find someone selling it on the streets dollar for two.

That is most distressing but I get comfort in imagining that maybe it is God who is saying we should reach many of his people through the pirates.

My thinking is that you cannot really place a price on any art form, even music. To me it is priceless, it is a God given talent that is supposed to heal and reach many people.

Maybe we are supposed to sing for free for his children. Often I do not understand how we are not paid for our work. We do not get paid but we are appreciated.

We put up a good show and fans are happy but the organizers do not pay, you wonder really and you think maybe we were meant to sing for free.

I have come far in this music business and money that I am owed is so much than what I actually have. However, I have seen that when performing I should do my best even before five people. I have discovered that you never know what will happen because a year after or five years later one of those people will remember you and give you something to work on.

MC: What is your comment on non-payment of musician’s royalties by radio station?

OM: To ZBC I say, I want our money. As musicians we received a letter saying we are not going to receive our royalties because ZBC has not paid for our music being played on radio. How can this be?

When our music is played all the time on radio? Will there be a radio station without music? ZBC should give us our money or stop playing our music even for one day and see who will listen to the station.

MC: What are your comments on emerging music genres- Urban Grooves for example?

OM: What is wrong with Urban Grooves (MC)? They are creating a culture but I get sad that Zimbabwean culture is not being well represented - it is becoming diluted and in the end we will not have someone we can recognize as entirely Zimbabwean.

MC: What is your comment on the Zimbabwean political landscape and how your music makes an impact on that national arena?

You performed at Morgan Tsvangirai’s mock wedding on Saturday, you previously performed at Grace Mugabe’s son’s wedding and you sand the song Wagona at Joice Mujuru’s celebrations of getting into government, what is your political position?

OM: My music is above politics- it is a form of art that represents the thinking of Zimbabweans as a people, it is above politics.

The purpose of my music is to give life to anyone who is a person. You should be very careful because there is a category of those that are purely artistes and those with a political agenda.

People I perform before are just that people before their qualifications or CVs or their job descriptions.

My music is quoted in households by housewives, their children and husbands; it is also quoted in workplaces, in colleges by academics, in church, by women’s groups, youths and children’s groups.

It talks to everyone, providing healing, hope and generally words that can inspire an individual to live positively.

This is very important to me as an individual, the ability to talk to people on different levels and impact their lives and conduct. Performing before politicians at functions such as you mentioned allows me to reach to them and offer them my message of healing and hope and providing news from the ground, I become a mirror of the society’s thinking and the message is sent during these performances. Politicians are also people they need inspiration, healing and hope.
MC- Who is your personal favourite Zimbabwean musician of all time?

OM- Musicians are diverse and they all have unique styles. We are not the same, it is you journalists who compare us and make us appear to fight. This is art and every musician has his or her own special qualities. I appreciate all Zimbabwean musicians; they put invest much effort often with few monetary gains. A lot of musicians in Zimbabwe are doing their best, but you journalists do not really know.

You think you are not real people, you are larger than life and you can say what you want..(Chukles) do you know Donald Kanyuchi you as an Entertainment Editor of a big local paper? You do not know him but you are an arts and entertainment journalist of the Daily News, (he laughs). Journalists should just be vanhu pane vanhu vanogara pane vanhu.

MC- What is your message to the people?

OM- I want to thank everyone wherever they are in Zimbabwe or across borders or overseas who had something to do with my 60years of existence. People are the ones that gave me inspiration to go on living doing what I love best. They provided words for my songs and bought my music, appreciated it critiqued it, keeping me humble and level headed and propelling me to compose more songs.

Recording companies over the years have been very supportive, my band members, promoters all the stakeholders in the music industry. I mentioned ZBC earlier on non-payment of royalties, I want my money but that cannot override the fact that the broadcasting sector and ZBC in particular played an important role in my life as a musician. Starting from 1958 with the Rhodesian Broadcasting Station, radio had something to do with local music which was enormous it allowed us to be heard by a wider audience and made us known and appreciated.

MC- What is your message to other musicians?

OM-Let us speak out for what is rightfully ours. We should not keep quiet and be trampled all over by people who take advantage of our investment in time, labour and passion in music. Hatifanire kuroverwa musaga we should speak out. For a long time composers have suffered, for all my years as a musician, the war to get what we want and should be rightfully given has been enormous. However, I never stop composing and I urge others not to stop. Let us continue producing good music even if the pirates continually pirate our music, personally I will not stop because I do my work to heal and give hope to the people.

MC: Do you ever give yourself a holiday?

OM- What holidays (MC) I give people holidays I work on holidays and all the other times because I provide relief to people. I take advantage of my travels of cause and I sometimes go away with my family.

MC-A big bash is lined up for you, Josh Hozheri, Chipaz and other promoters have been running around to give you a memorable birthday present, what are you doing privately on your big day.

OM-I want to celebrate the 21 years I have been with my son. The years are worth celebrating, he has something special to do with my 60 years. He was a surprise to me when he emerged as a good musician.

When my kids were growing up Shupi and Shami were always so involved in my music, they made arrangements of the female members in my group; they made suggestions on how the female backing vocalists would come into my music but never Sam and Selmor. These two later became good musicians, surprisingly.

Sam never revealed that he had love for music but one day I was invited to a parents day visit at his primary school, Dudley Hall here in Norton. I arrived at the school like other parents and sat comfortable in my chair. I glanced on the program and I was surprised to see Sam’s name on the entertainment slot.

I felt suddenly ill at ease imagining the embarrassment I was going to endure.

As the slot approached Sam’s name was announced and he walked confidently to the stage carrying my guitar and my combo that never left my studio. I ran out of words, I just gapped in awe but I was mesmerized at the nerve of the young man and intrigued if he was going to do just.

I wondered which song he was going to sing, whether it was going to come from my catalogue or someone else’s.

I sat up to watch carefully and to my surprise, he belted out a song that I did not recognize, but it was very good, I tried to listen hard to place it, before realizing that it was his own composition complete with his own rhythm.

That was amazing a work of a genius. There and then I decided to give him the guitar and Combo he had taken to without my knowledge, I told him to take it and make music with it.

MC- Most people think you used to compose music for Sam and basically held his hand in his brief music career deemed brilliant by most people that have had the privilege of listening to him?

OM- I never composed any music for same. Like I said he was a surprise to me. He continued making his own music, with a distinct sound that was unique to him. His voice was different from mine and his style was different though I can imagine that he obviously had some of my music traits.

His lyrics were deep as if he put so much thought to them. I cannot be compared to him because every musician is different.

It is you journalists that want to compare musicians. There is always something that distinguishes a musician from the next, because every human being is different. As musicians we laugh when you compare us because that is impossible.

I think journalists should develop a broader understanding of music.

MC- What are your thoughts on the sons or daughters of music legends that have stormed the local music scene.

OM-This is good because our inheritance should pass to our children. They should not be stopped from singing from their father’s catalogues because it is their legal right.

But a line should be drawn between talent and the not talented and making a choice to be unique and different, just being an individual musician that follows their own music sense and give them time to develop without being pressured or unnecessarily being  put under the spotlight.

MC- How often do you rehearse and how long does it take you to compose a song?

OM- I don’t give myself deadlines, this is a creative job, sometimes I imagine something or witness an interesting event or listen to someone narrate an interesting  story and I quickly jot down points on a piece of paper. I would refer to these later and make a composition.

I work anytime at night or in the middle of the afternoon whenever I feel inspired or driven.

MC- What was your greatest career challenge?

OM- Attitude

MC- What about attitude?

OM- Like I am talking to you now and you go and distort what I have given you?

MC- Do not worries about that, I have an attitude of cause but it is a positive one.

OM-Okay (laughs) the problem is Dambudziko racho ndiro problem.

It was time to go. Again from the Daily News Team, happy birthday Tuku…Rova ngoma mutavara

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