Oliver Mtukudzi: Troubadour for troubled times

“It’s not really what we achieve but what we overcome.” His eyes flickered for the first time as those words poured out. The room full of people thirstily drank them in, as though a dam had just been filled in a parched village.

Surviving in a sea of stress is Zimbabweans’ most endearing quality and to hear the man who has come to represent them say those words served as confirmation. Oliver Mtukudzi had spoken and Harare Sports Club’s Centurion restaurant was listening.

Such careful attention is seldom paid to performers in that venue. Attached to the cricket ground, it is essentially a pub where some patrons keep an eye on the game outside and others on the games being shown on the television screens – and where everybody has an opinion about all of them.

When Sam Mataure – Mtukudzi’s manager, who also plays the drums in his band – and Enock Piroro, the bass guitarist, kept busy for about half an hour before the performance, setting up their equipment and testing the sound, they did so over a constant hum from the audience. The hundred or so people were only silent when “Tuku” arrived.

He must have known the size of the audience and that he had to be barely audible at the start to entice them into silence, so that is what he did. His voice somehow matched both his small frame and his imposing presence – it remained delicate enough to go almost undetected but authoritative enough to demand one’s ears.

Tuku has as many albums as he has years on this earth – 62 – behind him, so to a new listener, identifying each track was impossible. But what was clear was the tenderness. With notes that sounded like a waterfall, Mtukudzi introduced himself as a gentle, caring musician. He held the balance between making eye contact and remaining detached as he carefully tiptoed through his opening songs. He refused to put his foot down any harder, instead allowing the gradually growing connection between artist and audience to form.

Once Mtukudzi was convinced it was strong enough, he upped the tempo. His inflections raised along with his eyebrows; his voice shook as much as his hips. He was getting into it. So were we. Suddenly the sounds that are synonymous with Tuku’s music were flooding the space: Mai Varamba, Todii and a haunting ­rendition of Neria, which brought everyone to their feet.

Some rocked gently, some closed their eyes so the music could sink in and others held their hands on their hearts as though it were an anthem. Everyone sang the chorus.

From the front row, the tear nestled in the corner of Tuku’s eye was glistening. Its cousin could not stop itself from rolling down my cheek. It was not a sad streak of saltiness, but an overflow of emotions stirred up by a singer who knows how to both smile and scowl through sound.

That evening, Tuku walked us through a journey that jolted the senses. He reminded us why he is a symbol of the best of Zimbabwe and how he, like the country he is from, has measured his life not by his achievements, of which he has many, but by his resilience.


The death of his son, Sam, in 2010 was his most recent and most severe loss, but he came back from it strongly enough to keep singing.

And sing he did. For more than two hours, à la Bruce Springsteen, Tuku performed without stopping and we wished he never would.

Then, at around 10.30pm, the lights dimmed and he disappeared. “Tuku, Tuku, Tuku,” we called after him, hoping for an encore. None came. He left us with only the music.

Oliver Mtukudzi will be performing on December 14 on the Concert Stage Lawn at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday