Oliver Mtukudzi was a complete musician. He composed, wrote songs, performed, played instruments, danced and warmed hearts. Sadly, he’s no more, writes Elly Gitau
Sitting with him, with just a table with two sealed bottles of drinking water and a glass on it separating us, the legend, music icon, a talented ‘sorcerer’ of the guitar, a vocalist with a golden-husky voice and dancer per excellence, Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi, sipped his water from a bottle, as we chatted.
On that Sunday evening of June 7, 2015, in the VIP tent at Arboretum in Nairobi, one of Africa’s most revered musicians of all time had just performed to a mammoth crowd at the Koroga Festival concert, but he looked pensive. Something was troubling her mind, or so I thought.
As the interview progressed, the Todii hitmaker opened up to me that some rumours doing rounds then were really disturbing his mind.
A week before my interview with the Zimbabwean music maker, sections of the media had it that Tuku’s former publicist Shepherd Mutamba had accused the then 62-year-old singer for “sending him into a diabetic coma” after he failed to pay his dues for the last six months of 2008.
Mutamba alleged that he fell ill in December of that year, but Mtukudzi abandoned him even when he fell into a coma. The allegations were made in his biography titled ‘Tuku Backstage’.
Also in 2015, exiled Zimbabwe musician Thomas Mapfumo also alleged that Tuku was a supporter of the then president Mugabe’s dictatorial regime. He alleged that the singer’s was “bribed” by Mugabe to silence, to keep him tight-lipped from airing issues that affected the country. He, however, dismissed all the accusations levelled against him.
“I am still the same Oliver these people didn’t want to talk about. I will always remain the same whether they continue talking about me or not. They have a lot to say about me, but I have nothing to say about them. Let them continue talking.
“I am a musician and not a politician. I don’t understand politics. So, if you want to know about politics, go find a politician and you will know everything you want to about the politics of Zimbabwe” he told me. That apart, Tuku was happy to be back in Nairobi and to perform in a city he referred to as a “beautiful home”.
Sadly, that veteran crowd-puller is no more! The iconic Afro jazz musician died yesterday at Avenues Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, with unconfirmed reports indicating he lost the battle to prostate cancer, aged 67.
His record label Gallo Records confirmed the sad news. Coincidentally, another legendary jazz artiste, South Africa’s Hugh Masekela, died on the same date in 2018.
Besides probably his most popular song, Todii, the multi-award winning singer was known for other hits such as Neria, Hear Me, Lord, Tozeza, Ziwere, Mabasa and Raki. Tuku began performing in 1977 when he joined the Wagon Wheels. The band’s single Dzandimomotera went gold and Tuku’s first album ‘Ndipeiwo Zano’ followed in 1978. He went on to release 65 more studio albums. Coincidentally on his 67th birthday, Tuku was about to release his 67th album titled ‘Hanya’Ga’, but never lived long enough to see that fete happen.
Mtukudzi, the lead of the band The Black Spirits, was a father of five children and had two grandchildren. Two of his children are also musicians. However, his son Sam Mtukudzi, a successful musician in his own right, died in a car accident in March 2010.
During his illustrious career, Tuku worked with a broad array of artistes from across the world including Kenya’s Eric Wainaina in a song titled Twende
Twende released in 2010. Loved by many music fans across the globe, fans poured into social media to send their tributes for the fallen music legend.
Eric Mugambi Kiambi wrote: “R.I.P Oliver Mtukudzi, one of my favourite African jazz singers. Your songs like Todii and Zunguka Zunguzukane (Twende Twende) with Eric Wainaina remains my favourite.”
Jamaican reggae group Morgan Heritage tweeted: “We were privileged to share the stage with the great Tuku and have the honor of meeting him in person. He was a giant of a musician and so humble at the same time. We pray the legacy of this great musician lives on forever. Our prayers go out to the family of Oliver Mtukudzi #RIP.”
May he Rest In Peace.