Photograph — thirteen.org

Oliver Mtukudzi, Zimbabwe’s Afro-jazz legend passed away on the 23rd of January 2019. Popularly known as “Tuku,” the songwriter who was born on the 22nd of September 1952 died at the Avenues Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe after a long battle with diabetes.

The self-taught guitarist came into limelight in the ’70s as one of the fighters against white domination and recorded over 60 albums in his 45-year career.

Oliver’s blend of southern African music traditions, including mbira, mbaqanga, jit, and the traditional drumming styles of the Korekore, created such a unique sound that it has been respectfully dubbed “Tuku music.” He also used his guitar to speak up about several practices in Zimbabwe.

Tuku’s voice

Tuku was a philanthropist and human rights activist, his lyrics conveyed messages about social vices like alcohol abuse, patriarchy and encouraging self-respect with a combination of proverbs.

Mtukudzi was referred to as a man with “the talking guitar.” In his song “Todii” (What shall we do?), he reflects on the challenge faced by communities as a result of HIV/AIDS. The song sympathizes with those who provide care to victims of this disease. It also emphasizes how those in positions of authority are violating their responsibility. The song ends on a plea for help and the need to remedy this challenge.

His 2001 song Wasakara, meaning “You Are Too Old”, was banned as it was seen as a reference to Former President Robert Mugabe during his political reign. The song was seen as a satire on the age of Mugabe, given that a character in the song was in denial of age creeping up on them. Mugabe ruled for 37 years.

Another song titled “Ndagarwa nhaka” (Inheriting), he talked about a cultural practice of the Shona people where a widow was married off to the late husband’s brother. In this song, Mtukudzi, appears to praise the practice and describes it as enabling the widow to get solace and protection given her loss.

Tuku served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the Southern African Region and has been described as a gift and a symbol of unity to Zimbabwe.

A National hero

Oliver Mtukudzi has been conferred as a national hero in Zimbabwe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced this honour on Thursday 24th January during Oliver wake keep service in his home in Norton, the president said the supreme decision-making body of political parties decided to confer hero status on the music legend. “We have agreed to confer him the national hero status, he is our national hero.”

Mtukudzi is the second non-politician to be granted the status. National heroes can be buried at Heroes’ Acre, a shrine traditionally reserved for prominent politicians and people who fought in the country’s 1970’s liberation war, which Tuku did not.

However, there has been a lot of controversy over this decision which is perceived as a means of political gain.

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