Friday, January 25, 2019

The Passing Away of an African Musical Legend: Oliver Mtukudzi


I happened on Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi purely by coincidence.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from Togo came over to visit while I was living in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and met me playing a beautiful Youssou N'dour album I had gotten from the international section of CDs at Best Buy. 

My friend, like the majority of Francophone Africans, was a big fan of Youssou N'dour. The friend was adamant that he must borrow my Youssou N'dour CD for a few days and I could tell by the degree of unadulterated Youssou N'dour fanaticism in his eyes that there was no saying no. So we struck a bargain; give me one African CD and I will let you have my Youssou N'dour CD for a few days. It was one of the best bargains I ever struck, as he handed me a CD entitled "Tuku Music" by a Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean musician I'd never  even heard of. The CD just blew me away and up to this day it is one that has never left my collection.

I never asked my friend for my Youssou N'dour album again, opting instead to go back to Best Buy and buy another copy. He also never gave me back my Youssou N'dour album. Those were before the days of iTunes. My friend probably thought that he had outsmarted me, but I will always rest with the assurance that I had the last laugh. 

Oliver Mtukudzi is one of those historic African musicians that never became big in West Africa and I really do not know why. Maybe it was our addiction to Prince Nico, Franco, Samangwana or western pop music. 

Mtukudzi's "Tuku Music" I can safely say is one of the best Albums of indigenous African music ever made. A self taught musician with a deep golden voice and great skills with the guitar, Mtudkuzi is among the unique group of musicians whose music never grows old. They get better with the passing of time.

For a perspective, just like Youssou Ndour was to Senegal, Salif Keita to Mali and Fela Kuti to Nigeria, so was Oliver Mtukudzi to Zimbabwe. He was a national legend, whose music was on the landscape of his country's music scene during the bitter struggle for independence and became a constant voice of hope during the initially hopeful and later turbulent times of Robert Mugabe, one of the giants of post colonial Africa who hang on to power for far too long. 

Oliver Mtukudzi died on Wednesday January 23rd 2019 after a career spanning many decades. I guarantee that he will be one of those musicians who will gain more prominence after his death, as the news and the significance of his music,make more people listen to his unique style. 

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