Zimbabwe’s master of song, Oliver Mtukudzi dies at 66

Zimbabwe’s master of song, Oliver Mtukudzi, has died at the age of 66. The news was confirmed by Gallo Records on Wednesday afternoon

With a discography of 67 albums, Mtukudzi created a sonic refuge that embraced many as its children around the continent and beyond.

Mtukudzi’s musical offerings were born from his exploration of the reach of a guitar.

Leading up to his 67th album, he told TimesLive how he was searching for the melody of an mbira in the guitar strings when he pioneered Tuku music.

“I looked for a sound the guitar couldn’t make in a guitar, that is how I learned to play the guitar. Professional guitarist at the time use to laugh at me. I used to look for a mbira (music instrument) on the guitar strings, I’ve always been experimental. But it was a blessing in disguise because I went on to pioneer a sound that was later labelled Tuku music.”

Among the songs that showcased his commentary is Mutavara. In a 2012 Mail & Guardian story about Mtukudzi, Percy Zvomuya wrote, “Subversive and reliant on Shona folk wisdom and dense idioms, the song encouraged young people to go out and hunt. Although appearing innocent, it was interpreted by the more observant as a recruitment tool for the nationalist freedom fighters then fighting Ian Smith’s racist regime.”

And when Robert Mugabe sat in the ruling chair, Zvomuya goes on to relay how his music was the gospel at anti-Mugabe rallies. In all of this, Mtukudzi remained neutral and pressed that his songs were not addressing the rulers.

However at the centre of what will continue to draw listeners to his music is the healing and solace it offers.

In Neria (1993) he sings “Oh Neria/ Don’t be disheartened, Neria please, God is with you,” in Shona. While many may have not known the translation of the lyrics, the mood set by the sorrowful acoustics and tender approach in his voice was enough to resonate with them.

Mtukudzi follows his dear friend Hugh Masekela, who died on the same day last year. 

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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