Tuku@65: A reason to celebrate

HARARE - Glam metal band Cinderella might not have been that popular among my friends that I grew up with in Glen Norah but their powerful song — Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) — was a hit.

We could be forgiven for not really having been quite aware of the musical prowess of this group — because at the time it was really difficult to take your ears off the music of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Black Box — as we were really enamoured with their works.

On June 25, 2009, pop icon Jackson died due to overdose of multiple tablets.

On February 11, 2012, Whitney followed.

I don’t know what happened to Black Box but I still have strong memories of their music.

Me and my friends belonged to a golden generation because we started school in 1980, the year of our independence from Britain.

Although I mentioned Whitney, Jackson and Black Box, we had a lot of exposure to local music where we never missed programmes on the then Radio Two where exiled businessman James Makamba had Saturday morning slots.

There was abundant musical talent. We had Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, Zexie Manatsa and the Green Arrows, Marshal Munhumumwe and the Four Brothers, James Chimombe, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits, John “Chibadura’’ Nyamukoko, Marxist Brothers (Simon and Naison Chimbetu), Bhundu Boys and the unforgettable Leonard Dembo.

Sadly, most of these musicians have either died or are no longer as active and successful as they used to be.

Today I am compelled to pay tribute to an enduring local music talent and master of song Oliver Mtukudzi who turned 65 years old yesterday.

He belongs to a rare breed of musicians and the fact that he has lived this long should be enough reason to celebrate.

Certainly I refuse to be reminded of Cinderella’s Don’t Know What You Got (Till It's Gone) hence my decision to focus on the career of this gangly musician whose works both on stage and off it have inspired a lot of young musicians.

Mtukudzi is a living legend who has earned his stripes through hard work, perseverance and discipline.

He has been at it since 1975 — producing quality music whose commercial success only arrived in 1998 — in his four-decade plus journey.

It’s quite staggering that for 23 years, despite releasing great songs such as Ndipeiwo Zano, Tozeza Baba, Mutavara, Madzongonyedze and Pss Pss Hallo, among an impressive discography, commercial success eluded Nzou Samanyanga as Mtukudzi is fondly called by his totem.

And it’s even jarring to some reading the success story of Tuku, that at one time his career was blighted with many problems which led him to relocate to Kwekwe where he performed with the Zig Zag band. But perhaps it was fitting that he had to put shoulders to the wheel to hit the jackpot which today makes many people marvel at his works.

That started by reviving his career which saw him becoming a permanent fixture every Sunday between 3pm and 5pm at the now defunct Terreskane Hotel along Five Avenue.

He would play solo.

Numbers swelled and the Black Spirits were resurrected.

Shows came thick and fast.

Venues such as the former Solo’s, Sandros and Harpers (not Holiday Inn but Oasis) became smaller.

For some of us who were following Tuku, it was not a surprise at all that the life-changing moment came in 1998 via the album Tuku Music.

It was released at the same time with the late Simon Chimbetu’s Lullaby.

Lullaby was a gem but Tuku Music was every collector’s item.

It is fair to say that after playing second fiddle to Mapfumo for those 23 years, Tuku Music is the one which condemned Mukanya to the peripheries.

Doors opened for Mtukudzi who enlisted the services of Debbie Metcalfe as his manager.

With Metcalfe, the 65-year-old became a brand in demand, surpassing the tours by any other Zimbabwean musician.

This is the story of Mtukudzi whose enduring talent is always reminding me and those who keenly followed his career that he has come a long way.

Happy birthday Nzou!

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