Tuku Backstage: Part I

EVEN those among us who surrounded Tuku daily cannot claim to know the man too well. His life is pretty much closed; his personality is intriguing it became subject of my own study.

Tuku lives an insular life, pretty much to himself, doing very little talking, but his body language often speaks volumes about his mood. If you met him at the office in the morning humming tunes endlessly, you would know that he had slept well and was looking forward to a great day.

If we had early business together, he would join me for tea at Daisy’s Kitchen, a restaurant run by his wife Daisy at the offices of Tuku Music in Norton where he established the arts centre Pakare Paye, 30 minutes’ drive from Harare.

We would chat and review the showbiz pages in the daily newspapers laughing at dull reporters who did not grasp simple issues. None of us was interested in the daily political diatribe in the newspapers so we ignored much of the political news.

But Tuku reads the stories on soccer very enthusiastically maybe because his son-in-law Tinashe Nengomasha (husband to Tuku’s daughter Samantha) inspires him. Nengomasha is a Zimbabwean international footballer with an illustrious career in South Africa’s premier league.

When in good mood, it translates into elation in the practical sense. He will pull faces at you in a comical way and laugh and crack funny jokes.

It is easy to see when he is under the weather. He withdraws to the privacy of his office for quiet contemplation and asks to be served tea and food there away from everyone. Or he gives you one-word answers where you seek to discuss issues in substance. In other words, he tells you to go away without saying it.

On a day when he is feeling absolutely musical, he goes into rehearsal for at least five hours without breaking for lunch. I am sorry for the band members who do not match his amazing stamina and passion seen in his commitment and consistency. I nicknamed his style of marathon rehearsals “military drill”.

Naturally, Tuku gets disappointed but rarely is he visibly angry and does not keep grudges. He does not easily fire people and always gives workers a second chance. His tolerance for delinquency at the workplace is incredible.

I saw him really furious once when he fired his band members Never Mpofu, Charles Chipanga, Namatayi Mubariki and Simba Dembedza for misconduct in 2011.

The quartet insulted Tuku over a purely personal issue and the abusive language that was used against him cannot be repeated in print for legal reasons. Tuku does not like people encroaching into his personal life or that of his wife or family. His life is a no-go area.

The four were summarily dismissed on the eve of a morning flight to Johannesburg, South Africa for a show. Tuku had easily assembled another band. He is clever. At any given time, he has experienced instrumentalists at his arts centre who can play his music proficiently and many more others in Harare.

The band did not leave on its own will but was in truth fired for meddling in Tuku’s private life. The four even fooled the media into believing that the dismissal was a result of a salary dispute.

Charles, Never and Namatayi were the best paid band members in Zimbabwe each one of them receiving $400 per show of two hours and with Tuku’s frequency of up to three shows per week, it meant each band member could take home nearly $5 000 per month although the money did not always come on time.

I can reveal now that Charles acknowledged his abuse in an sms apology written to Tuku and received on August 18, 2011 that said in part: “Honestly, am sorry about the words that came out of my mouth and ask for your forgiveness.”

But Tuku had already slammed that door and moved on.

Tuku is a member of the Methodist Church (John Wesley) and he tries never to skip service every Sunday as long as he is home. He says he truly believes in God. In 2001, he became a full member of the church after qualifying at the men’s fellowship.

But he grew up in the Presbyterian Church, it was Daisy who brought him to the Methodist Church. When he turned 60, he attributed his longevity to the grace of God.

“God has something to do with me, my work and family. God guides me in whatever I do. I might feel popular and big but I can’t override God. The 60 years are a blessing because some of my peers were not so lucky. I am alive because I think God still has a purpose for me.

“Once our individual purposes in life are fulfilled, we meet the fullness of our time…we die. When my son Sam died (March 15, 2010) I want to believe that he had achieved what God had set out for him, young as he was (21). I don’t know what I have done for God to be so blessed with these 60 years and I will continue serving the Lord and strive to be a better person.”

Despite working with Tuku for many years, my colleagues and I could not establish if Tuku had friends in the true sense of friends that he confides in. He cuts a lonely figure hanging around his offices and the exercise regimen to help keep his blood sugar levels under control.

He is diabetic and daily shoots himself with insulin as part of his medication.

He usually has breakfast at the office, business meetings and goes through private paperwork and rehearses if he has to, before dashing to Harare if he has business engagements in the city.

The man cries a lot. Perhaps it is a weakness to cry; perhaps it is a show of strength to express one’s inner feelings. But still I think he cries too much.

Whether he is in rehearsal and certain memories overwhelm him he will cry openly, wipe the tears and continue working. He still cries on stage. I know he cries a lot more in private. Fans want to see elated A-list celebrities’ smile and laugh and they are happy for you. In grief, they see your tears and they grieve with you and share your pain. That is what it is.

When Tuku lost his son Sam, multitudes of mourners, never seen before at Harare’s main cemetery at Warren Hills, turned up to grieve with Tuku.

Police were even deployed to control the crowd of 10 000 mourners. In happier times, too, the crowds pack Tuku’s shows, like nobody’s business, and share the good times. Women blow kisses at him, others throw themselves at him.

Men kiss his feet. Such is his celebrity life.

“I am human, I cry. It’s not a weakness to cry but an expression of emotion that I feel at that particular time when I momentarily get into my own space. You cry because you are saddened by something or because you are overjoyed. Because my music also speaks to me I sometimes cry on stage when the music touches my heart.”

In 1988, working at Parade magazine, I was assigned to cover a show where Tuku was performing at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield, Harare. Highfield is a mass populated neighbourhood, one of the early ghettos with a long history of nationalist politics that led to the 1970s war of liberation and Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.

I left the city centre when it was just about getting dark and rode in the rear baggage compartment of an old Peugeot 404 station wagon plying the Highfield route.

The Peugeot models, those old ones with the champion gear, were christened “ETs” short for “emergency taxis” and were actually regularised to complement local conventional buses.

The “ET” that I took was packed as usual and passengers overflowed from its rear. The conductors of the “ETs” were very skilful. The rear compartment was always full and conductors were last in the car and the only available space could fit only one buttock, right on the edge of the boot, forcing the conductor to sit inclined towards the inside on that single buttock.

Seated in the baggage compartment with me was Tuku. I was bewildered to see him because “ETs” were for common people not the A-list celebrities. I said to myself “Tuku of all people sitting in the baggage compartment like a piece of luggage”.

At least he should have taken a proper taxi because he can afford it and he could ride decently in comfort like a superstar that he is. I did not have a clue what he was doing in that ramshackle of a car good enough to be at the scrap yard. It was to transpire later that the “ET” was actually his means of transport those days.

I had interviewed Tuku several times before and he even knew me by name. We exchanged pleasantries and chatted all the way inhaling our exhaust smoke from the open boot.

Soon the show was underway. Midway, Tuku played Zvauya Sei? (1986) and broke down tears visibly rolling down his face. He did not finish the song. The band stopped playing momentarily to allow him to pick himself up before the show could continue.

The song reminds him of the relationship that Tuku had with his father Samson before he died in 1986. He bemoans his loss in the song and ponders over life without his father and anchor.

It was my first time to see a musician crying on stage. The only other time that I saw a musician in tears was on television where a heavy metal guitarist cried because he was high on drugs or something.

Deafening silence engulfed the auditorium. The perplexed audience could only watch Tuku crying.

There are times when Tuku sings for himself and cries to seek relief from poignant feelings and memories. That night was one such time.

Twenty-four years later in 2012, while I was interviewing Tuku for the book, I asked him what drove him to tears that night at Mushandirapamwe Hotel when we drove together in the rear baggage compartment of a smoking “ET”. More than two decades later, Tuku still had vivid memories of that night.

“I was sick and away from work for nine months with a bad ulcer that wasn’t diagnosed early enough and my condition got worse and my father was looking after me. He died and I survived. That is where the song Zvauya Sei? comes from. Memories hit me badly that night and I cried in front of my fans. I let out my feelings…I couldn’t stop the tears. I hadn’t done the things that I wanted to do for my father and he was gone.”

Comments (18)

I look forward to the book. Yes, Tuku is right, to cry is human. Men sometimes pretend that they do not cry, a false macho-type of thinking. Tuku knows his music sometimes makes others cry. So, why not also cry himself when the occasion demands it from the heart. When I worked on a UNICEF project with him, his humility and work ethic was everyone's admiration. And finally, thanks to you Shepherd Mutamba for sharing this humble star's life in another medium, a book.

Chenjerai Hove - 3 September 2014

Oliver Mutukudzi "Tuku" is a fantastic personality. When I met him for the first time in an aeroplane bound from Harare to Bulawayo in day in my life I was struck by Tuku's humility when we shared the same seat and he openly told me how the dreaded AIDS disease had wiped out most of his band members. I rate Tuku as one of Zimbabwe's best muscians a very humble gentlemen indeed

Tonderai Chanakira - 3 September 2014

Ugh! Horrible writing. 'Pretty Much' used twice in two paragraphs! Can't go on...

Peter Baxter - 3 September 2014

Aiwa whatever you have done wrong Tuku, God is there to forgive. But I am a great fan of yours and President Mugabe. May the two of you continue to receive blessings

Wasu - 3 September 2014

When I was young I was taught that a real man do not cry, only a weak man cry. But I have realized that crying doesn't mean that I am weak. When I was born that was the first announcement I made to the world that I was ALIVE and NORMAL. It's normal for Tuku to cry. Looking forward to reading the book.

Kudzai Muchecheterwa - 3 September 2014

Tuku a star throughout the past decades and will always remain a star for decades to come .His music and personality are always mature and professional .To sum up Tuku's life I can only say he is more than humane.

Josphat Josephs Bush - 3 September 2014

Tuku is well redpected musician the world over. Thank you so much Shepherd Mutamba and the Daily News for sharing this great musician's autobiography with us.

Dr Know - 3 September 2014

Looking forward to the book. Hope it will have a reasonable price.

Emru Kunanti - 3 September 2014

I cry a lot too. Just this Monday I cried uncontrollably at a friend's funeral. Ndanga ndotya kuti ndini ndega ndinochema, zvino kana samanyanga vachichemawo...aiwa ndatenda hangu vaMutamba.

Tawaz - 3 September 2014

A refreshing and clear piece of writing. It has shown me that I do not know Tuku for real because the sort of things you unravel in this pieced is quite at variance with the Tuku of today who travels in anything new the automobile industry has to offer. To imagine that he used to ride in those ETs is an inspiration on its own. To be quite frank with you, sometimes some of us force things we cant afford just to please our friends or next door neighbours but to think that Tuku for all his fame then and now could ride in those ETs is, for lack of a better word, legendary. I like you Tuku may the Lord our God prolong you in health and peace.

Tonderai Gonzo - 3 September 2014

I smell a bit of bias or cherry picking on positives about Tuku from Shapiro. As far as reading the book I am out coz I think I know Tuku better than what you wrote on your part 1. Wish you all the success with the project

Gwenaz - 3 September 2014

Poor prose. This won't capture the interesting story of Tuku. If I were Tuku I would go for a ghost writer/s; think of the likes of Memory Chirere, Shimmer Chinodya and Chenjerai Hove. Already the way Mutamba writes puts me off. Sorry, I won't buy this one.

Nkosi Mambo - 4 September 2014

With a music catalogue spanning over 60 albums, Tuku definitely has an interesting tale tell. But, in all fairness the writer is not good enough. This first part is far from captivating at all- poor prose writing and its more centred on the writer than Tuku. Suddenly, I'm not looking forward to the rest of the book...

Gono - 4 September 2014

Poor writing style...not captivating at all...

waTinhu - 4 September 2014

I was brought up in Highfield & have been taken back in time to remember Ebbo (Abel) Chitimbe who left the band for the liberation struggle. The Nhamo dzandimomotera song comes to mind. Highfield deserves a show at Mushandira pamwe hotel to remember the good old days when Tukus last song at 4.00 in the morning would be ndakuenda, when Rova ngoma mutavara would be long with a reggae feel to it, will always support you Oliver semunhu wekufIo

tichaona - 4 September 2014

“Highfield is a mass populated neighbourhood, one of the early ghettos with a long history of nationalist politics that led to the 1970s war of liberation and Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980” - this Shepherd Mutamba is an idiot. He says “early ghetto”. Why would anyone call Highfield a ghetto? The back elites all came from Highfield. Highfield was a very, very big improvement on the housing that blacks used to occupy before colonialism. Before colonialism people used to live in houses similar to the ones found in the Reserves - the mud, thatched roof round huts. I would also want to remind the writer that the houses in Highfield were cheap houses built to house poor urban workers who could not afford to build or buy their own houses. The way people in Zimbabwe talk or write you would think this country was advanced before the whites came when it was in the Stone Age. I don't know who this Shepherd Mutamba thinks he is fooling. We were quite happy in Highfield, much better than any other blacks in the country. In the past it was clean and not overcrowded as it is now. I thank the whites.

Musona - 4 September 2014

Excellent article and excellent writing, I will be ordering the book online as soon as I can.

masenjana - 4 September 2014

Sherperd Mutamba has chosen to write. I will follow his story. He was had the courage to document Tuku's life. Others will bring other versions. It is a beginning.

Mavara Azarevhu - 23 September 2014

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