THINGS YOU DIDN’T ABOUT OLIVER MTUKUDZI
Oliver Mtukudzi, also known as “Tuku” (short for Mtukudzi) was a singer-songwriter, actor, writer, film director and entrepreneur. With over 60 albums to his name, he was one of Zimbabwe’s top musicians and lead of the band The Black Spirits. His music was mainly in the Afro-Jazz genre. Mtukudzi’s career spanned 5 decades from the 70s to the 2010s, having started in 1975 when he did his debut single Stop after Orange.
Mtukudzi had his own music label ‘Tuku Music’ which is also the name of his apparel label. Mtukudzi was a lead actor in the movies Jiti and Neria released in the 90s. Mtukudzi wrote and directed the live musical production Was My Child. Mtukudzi was one of the few Zimbabweans whose music has international appeal.
Mtukudzi died on the afternoon of 23 January at Avenues in Harare, after being ill with diabetes. He was declared a National Hero by the Zanu-PF Politburo which meant that he could be buried at the National Heroes Acre. His family, however, decided to bury him at his rural home in Madziva.
Following his death, the City of Harare announced that it would rename Willowvale road to Oliver Mtukudzi road.
Mtukudzi was born on the 22nd of September 1952 in Highfield, was the first born in a family of seven siblings. His parents both sang and actually met at a competition of church choirs. His parents continued to sing and compete amongst themselves (parents) and drew in Oliver and his siblings as the judges. This musical environment drew him to music. Mtukudzi developed a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life due to the premature death of his father. He had four sisters and one brother.
1Early Music Career
Mtukudzi’s music career started at the age of 23 with the 1975 release of his debut single, Stop After Orange. It’s been stated widely, including on Mtukudzi’s own website that in 1977 he teamed up with Zimbabwe top musician, Thomas Mapfumo, at a famous band called Wagon Wheels that being his official entry into the Zimbabwean music industry. Mapfumo, however, denied this saying,
“I was coming from Mutare myself where we were contracted at a hotel in Dangamvura. When I returned to Harare, that’s when I met Oliver. He was practising at James Bond’s place because this guy used to own equipment, so a lot of youngsters used to go there just to practice music. After I met Oliver, we had a short tour together. I was already singing my Shona music, and he was playing something strange… he was playing the guitar, singing a song like… we used to call the song Green for Go and Red for Stop.
“I said to him, ‘you guy, why don’t you sing in your mother’s language?’ He was a good guy, he took my advice. He even asked for one of my songs Tamba Zvako Marujata (Rova Ngoma Mutavara). It was a traditional tune, which I used to sing myself. He came to me and asked if he could record the music and I said you can go on and record it. It came out beautifully and everybody liked it, and I also thought it was a good song.”
With the Wagon Wheels, Mtukudzi recorded Dzandimomotera, a song inspired directly by the Second Chimurenga. Dzandimomotera depicted the black man’s life struggles under the white minority government.
One account says Mtukudzi left the group in 1978 to form his own group The Black Spirits and released the album Ndipiweo Zano. The Album was a hit. Mtukudzi said he intended to use the name Wagon Wheels with the new group but the Wagon Wheels managers found other musicians to continue with the band, which forced Mtukudzi to find a new name for his band. Mtukudzi took several of the Wagon Wheels musicians with him to The Black Spirits.
Another account, however, taken from an interview Mapfumo had with New Zimbabwe says The Black Spirits was actually Mapfumo’s group first:
The Black Spirits (now the name of Mtukudzi’s band) was my band,” Mapfumo says. “He was with Wagon Wheels, and then they changed it to Black Spirits. Our Black Spirits disbanded, and then we formed the Blacks Unlimited. He never played with Blacks Unlimited; he was with Wagon Wheels before they changed their name to Black Spirits. We played together on that short tour when he was singing Red for Stop and Green for Go. At that time, that group had no name when we toured… it was just Green for Go and Red for Stop.