I am not afraid: Tuku

HARARE - Music legend Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, whose first song was Stop after Go in 1975, has just released his 65th album titled Eheka! Nhai Yahwe. Our correspondent Munya Simango recently spoke to the veteran musician on a variety of issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Does your just-released 65th album hold a special place in your heart?

A: The first album that I released, Ndipeiwo Zano (1978) is the one that holds a special place in my heart. The first cut is the deepest; no other album can take its place because that is where I started. Its release was a great and satisfying moment because I had never done an album before; I had done singles.

Q:  At the time you started your career, during the 70s, music was not considered an attractive career, what drove you into it?

A: Let me correct you there, to me music is not a career; it is my calling. I have not even decided on which career to pursue. I am not a musician by decision; I was born to be a musician.

You see, when I was a young boy my mother told me that my voice would never sound as sweet as it did when I cried upon birth; she said that my birth cry was the sweetest song to ever roll off my lips.

So to me that meant I was born to sing because if my first cry sounded that sweet to my mother, it means that I started singing the moment I took my first breath.

So you see, my embarking on a musical journey was not by coincidence or a random occurrence, neither was it a result of external forces driving me.Haasi masanga, this is part of God’s plan for me. I was born for this.

Q: You said music is not a job or a career for you, can you expand on this?

A: I noticed that most people follow dreams which are ignited by an experience or observation, which then makes them aspire to be one thing or another.

Now if you aspire to be someone else then where is the real you? Who are you? Are you using the unique talent that God gave you?

I believe that people must value their God-given talents because that is what brings out their excellence in their field.

You see everyone is unique because God does not duplicate talents; even our faces are different because God does not repeat perfection. I am always surprised by the young people who come to share with us at Pakare Paye.

They always bring something that I am not good at and yet I have been in music for 40 years.

Q: Why do you make such extensive use of imagery, metaphors and idioms in your lyrics? Is that your style?

A:  It is not really my style because I did not create metaphors; they have always been part of our rich language. I use them to add colour to my music.

This is what our forefathers used to ensure that important messages were effectively conveyed. You see —proverbs and idioms are not time-bound or periodical. They are timeless and are useful across generations because they are part of our culture and speak to our existence as a people.

Q: Some of your controversial songs such as Bvuma have led people to comment that you hide behind idioms because you are afraid of the backlash that results from straight talk on sensitive matters.

A: I am not afraid because I do not insult anyone in my music. My aim is to build society and remind people to think about their actions.

Figures of speech are examples that bring clarity to a message being conveyed so the use of such language does not mean I am hiding because it is meant to reveal certain truths to individuals so that they understand and hopefully change their ways.

Q: It would seem that from 1977 to 1980 your message was meant to chastise the Smith regime?

A: I would not say I was speaking against that government only. My music speaks to everybody and anybody. If you listen to my music from that time, you will find that it still means the same and it is still relevant today.

It was not meant for Smith only. As long as society exists, that music will always be there, commenting on the condition of society.

This is because that message still speaks to the same issues that I was addressing when I composed those lines.

Q: The album Tuku Music marked a turning point in your journey. What brought this about? Did you change your music?

A: I did not change my music. I have always been consistent. What changed on this album is the quality of recording, the studio and the quality of the instruments. So the quality of sound on that CD was way better than anything that I had ever done before and that is why it was very well-received.

Q: Is that what put you on the international scene?

A: I was on the international scene long before that because Zimbabwe has always been part of the international community.

Also, I started performing internationally in 1981 when we toured Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. By then I already had four albums which were all well-received by audiences outside our borders.

Q: You have been honoured several times locally and internationally for your work, what does that mean to you as an individual and as an artiste?

A: Getting honours, especially being nominated among others means there is a recognition that the purpose of my art has achieved. It means that society appreciates my work and for that I am grateful.

Q: Which one of your many awards and honours holds a special place in your heart?

A: They are all equally important because they speak to the same thing; that my art is being appreciated. However, what really touched me is when the late radio personality Mbuya Mlambo ran a competition for kids on her programme.

She asked children to draw Oliver Mtukudzi and write a message to me on a piece of paper. She then sent me a big carton full of letters from the children.

The common message in all those letters was that they thought I was the best. To me those were very special honours because what they said and the gifts of the drawings came straight from their hearts.

You see children do not lie; they love unconditionally and because their hearts are pure. They cannot be influenced to love or hate someone without reason. Once they say that they love you, they really mean it and having so much expression of love from so many children means a lot to me.

Q: And being on the cover of Time Magazine?

A: Yes that came as a big surprise because when I did that interview I did not think I could be on the cover of such an important international publication, I just took it as an ordinary interview. It was only when they sent me a copy of the magazine that I realised that being on that cover means a lot, it points to the fact that one has achieved something so significant that is appreciated globally.

And that pushed me to be more serious about what I do because I never thought I would ever be counted as one of those people that would appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

Q: Let us talk about your collaborations, which ones do you find most memorable?

A: Every one of the collaborations that I have done is special. This is because one is working with an artiste who brings something new and special to the music, something that is unique and outside one’s scope.

My very first was with Susan Mapfumo on the song Chiiko Chikonzero and the second one was with James Chimombe on the song Ini Newe.

Q: You introduced traditional instruments later in your career, what is the reason for that?

A: Traditional instruments like mbira have always been part of my music because I learnt the guitar by playing mbira chords and tunes.

My guitar sounded like I was playing mbira even though I did not have the instrument.  So from the start mbira was the driving force behind my music.

Then there was a time I felt that young artists all thought that our traditional instruments were inferior. So I recorded an album with some old favourites using marimba and mbira.

The songs came out different, sweeter than before and they were well received. I think I was successful because I influenced a lot of youngsters to start using mbira and marimba in their musical arrangements. 

Q: The Black Spirits is one of Zimbabwe’s longest surviving bands. What keeps it together? Is it Oliver Mtukudzi?

A: I cannot say it is Oliver Mtukudzi. I think it is the good fortune of consistently having members with the same attitude. Artistes have come and gone but the new members who join us seem to inherit the attitudes of the ones that were in the band before them, it is a culture that we have.

In fact my late young brother Robert coined that name. His rationale was that we are black people and each person brings his ancestral spirits (midzimu) to the band so that we work together. So as a band we connect on a spiritual level and that is what unites us.

Comments (6)

a great musician indeed.keep it up mudhara.

soko - 4 October 2016

A well presented interview which does not instigate bad things . well done Munya and tezvara vangu Tuku

uhuru vibes - 4 October 2016

A true living legend indeed. continue sharing your wisdom with us

TJ - 4 October 2016

well done mudhara.The way you responded speaks volume.No insults ,no political conotations no bad language

George Hlatwayo - 4 October 2016

one of the best interviews I've read in a while

togarepi - 5 October 2016

Long live Tuku....... for u a good teacher in music circles. Keep it up Mudhara.

Forget Matewu - 14 October 2016

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