UNITED States-based academic and ethnomusicologist, Jennifer Kyker, has officially unveiled her book on local music legend Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi titled Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music In Zimbabwe.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
Speaking at a reading and discussion ceremony at the United States Embassy Public Affairs Section during their Food for Thought discussion panels in Harare on Tuesday, Kyker said her personal and passionate relationship with Zimbabwean music inspired her to tell Tuku’s story, while capturing the tapestry of Zimbabwean musical history.
“I met Tuku at the fire escape of the college, which I was then attending, Mount Holyoke College and had always been intrigued by his music and in that talk I humbly submitted that I wanted to write a paper on his music and he said ‘no, why don’t you write a book instead!’ and I thought that would be even better for my thesis,” she said.
That led to an over-decade long interaction with Mtukudzi in which Kyker conducted interviews, dug through tonnes of material in archives and libraries, tailed Tuku’s shows in and outside Zimbabwe, as well as spoke to journalists and people close to the musician to unite in the book.
“I started work on the book in 2004 and wound up official interviews in 2009 and apart from including the death of Samson Mtukudzi (which occurred after the 2009 wind down) everything else is largely from that period,” she said.
Kyker chronicled her own love affair with Zimbabwean music at the start of the event. She spoke of how she started playing marimba in the US aged 10 and later decided to learn the mbira in Zimbabwe. She came to Zimbabwe at 15 for hands-on apprenticeship.
“I lived in Highfield and learnt to play the mbira and that brings my story close to that of Oliver, who also was raised in Highfield,” she said.
Journalist and author, Robert Mukondiwa, who is quoted extensively in the book for breaking key Tuku stories, spoke glowingly of Kyker’s work.
“The beauty of the story is that she managed to write something of interest, which is easy to read and enjoy in spite of the academic origins of its birth while not sensationalising the story, but respectfully looking at Tuku the artist,” he said.
The book is available in Zimbabwe at major public libraries including Harare City Library and some universities and can be purchased on
Due to restrictive import duties on books, the writer decried her inability to bring in hard copies for the local market.
Kyker is joint assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the Eastman School of Music and College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester.