BY PHENIAS F. SADONDO
THIS past week was a very difficult one for Zimbabwe, Africa and the world at large. The world-renowned Afro-Jazz Icon, Oliver ‘Samanyanga’ Mtukudzi, also known as Tuku, died after a long battle with diabetes. Tuku had been in and out of the hospital in the past months. The worst came on January 23, 2019 when he eventually succumbed to the disease. Judging from stories that were reported in the local Press, the beloved Tuku was losing the battle. Newspapers reported about cancelled and rescheduled shows, postponed engagements and the fight for survival in Tuku’s last days. And then the inevitable happened.
I struggled to accept the news as it filtered in. One Twitter user and editor of Harare’s popular tabloid posted a very short, yet strange tweet on his timeline. ‘I hope it’s not true’, that’s all he said. I was clueless, just like most of his followers. But I realised, as I was scrolling down the comments, that some seemed aware of what it was all about. Whilst most comments were trying to push the journalist to give details, a few were already sending in their condolences. One follower was very brazen, ‘Yeah, Tuku is no more…’, he posted. I searched on Twitter again and found one ‘ghost’ account, which had posted about the news. They tagged various news houses in Zimbabwe. My heart skipped a beat and I hoped it was not true. Since about 2012, fake news about Tuku’s death had been spread, leading Tuku to jokingly say: “Kana ndafa ndichavafonera”. (When I am dead, I will call them). I did a quick Google search, NewsDay had a developing story; Breaking News: Oliver Mtukudzi dies. I had no reason not to believe NewsDay, but I found the urge to keep hope alive, given that they were also waiting for an ‘official statement’ from the family. Those were just wishes, but deep down I felt it too. Mdhara was gone. A few hours later, it was all over the internet and Press.
Based on the comments and compliments about his glittering and glamorous career, there was no doubt that Tuku was the people’s hero. The government declared him a national hero, a move which was welcomed by many. Tuku did his best to take Zimbabwean music and culture to the far ends of the earth, in a career spanning over 40 years. He started as a raw and unrefined ghetto boy and ended as a fine grandpa with a calabash of wisdom. Tuku never retired from music.
He would rhetorically ask: ‘How can I retire from myself?’ Last year, he released his 66th album, Hany’ga — Concern — which is likely his last unless there is something that is going to be released posthumously. I am really wishing for that. Steve Dyer, one of Mdara’s long term friends and colleague, a perfect musician in his own right, indicated that ‘there could be’ something actually. I pray he was right.
With Tuku Music, it has never been easy for me to pick favourite tracks. As long as that deep, husk voice and the sweet acoustic is present, I am hooked. From his last offering, however, I chose Chiwepu. In February last year, I was talking to friends about the song and its deep meaning. Darlington responded; “Tuku never disappoints”. Indeed, he never disappointed. He produced music for all seasons and circumstances. Hear Me Lord would raise me when I am down, Zimbabwe is a reminder, Pakasimbwi helps me cherish and value my beloved Mapokana in Honde Valley, Chirimundari shows how deep the man would get, Chengetai Mai naBaba is my dedication to my own parents, Eliah (snr) and Ruth. Whenever I think of my late Gogo Nhewa (Erinah), I play Tinomuchema, Nhava inspired me to pen a poem, Marimuka on the train, from one end of Cape Town to the other. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is Tuku inspired me. He inspired multitudes. I remember relaxing with my two brothers, Victor and Charles, playing Tumira Shoko, off the album Kuvhaira and later redone on the album Tumirai Shoko. We would laugh when he was saying; asi vanochemachema nzara… Chisuwo chekumba, chisuwo chemusuva. I still play the song as I will be reminiscing over beautiful memories and imaginations of my own home. When confused, I play ‘Seiko’… When people are just gazing me, despising and joking about what I do for a living, I think of the lyrics munendinangara muneti jee?’ in the song Shanda.
I was exposed and hooked to Tuku in 2000 following the release of his acclaimed album, Tuku Music, a year earlier. It wasn’t easy to pick a favourite track from the gem-packed album. However, my teacher then made it easy by affixing a cartoon on the classroom wall with an old bald-headed and heavily bearded man kneeling and suckling his mother’s breast-milk. Dzoka Uyamwe, it was captioned. I fell in love with the song. We would call it Ndafunga Dande… henceforth, I became a Tuku fan. It’s such a pity that I only witnessed him performing live just once. It was in 2012 at a show organised by Cimas at the Africa Unity Square. He was wearing a light-blue shirt, a pair of blue jeans, a cowboy hat, and some tennis. I was putting on almost exactly the same outfit except for the cowboy hat of course. I enjoyed the show. I rarely attend shows, but this one left an indelible mark. He passionately played his sweet melody, Dzandimomotera, and just like everyone else in attendance, I sang along… Ini handidi nhamo, ini handimbodi nhamo, ini handidi nhamo ini Hossana!!!’
Tuku inspired not only myself, but most people I know. A very close friend of mine had a morning alarm tone, Hope Hadzina Ndima. My elder brother adopted the same too. They would both speak about the mojo the song had on them and the energy it would give them as they were readying for the day. It was sort of a ritual song that would give them the impetus to start a day. Another friend of mine told me something in confidence, some years ago when we were near the department of physics at the University of Zimbabwe. He told me that he was seriously considering being a musician. He thought it was going to shock me. But I wasn’t surprised at all. I congratulated him for reaching the level that most of us never reach, ‘self-identification and discovery’. He laid out his plan. After the degree, he said, he wanted to start acoustic guitar and piano lessons. He wanted to be like Tuku. I smiled and encouraged him to go for it. I told him how I loved Tuku and his acoustic. He aspired to do one-man shows with his acoustic, just like Tuku. He wasn’t sure if I was being honest with him. “Bro, be honest with me. Am I making sense?” he asked me. “When education limits your imagination and narrows your options, it is not good education. Education should make the whole world available to you, not to hide some enterprises from you. Music is one such an enterprise. You can be both a scientist and a musician”, I gave him my opinion. I told him I loved writing and was trying to develop that whilst pursuing my Natural Sciences degree. I am glad he was convinced because a few years later, he is now a pianist at my favourite local gospel group, Celebration Choir. He is travelling the world as a result.
Sunday January 27, 2019, the icon was interred at his rural home, Pakasimbwi, pakakomo kaye Katsamvi, pene dombo dzvuku. High profile people and fellow musicians paid their last respects and tributes to the departed hero. Alick Macheso, spoke about the award given to his wife Nyadzisai, by the late icon as an appreciation for the role she played in moulding and nurturing the sungura maestro. Inini baba, ndimukoma asi ndaimuti baba, Akapa award kune mudzimai wangu inini kuti muramu, uri kugona kuchengeta rombe iri”, said Macheso in, his typical Macheso speaking style. He then sang for the departed musician. Tungamira mwachewe, tichasangana kudenga. All had good stories to tell about the legend. Some had plans with him which never materialised. Others had fond and beautiful memories. Others wished they could have had more time with him. But it’s all gone now. Such is life. I too had plans with him. Plans to sit down with him and speak and share about life. Plans to tap and drink some more from his calabash of wisdom. Now that it won’t happen in this life, I have to be sufficed and satisfied by listening to his gems. That’s the legacy he left us.
More beautiful and coherent tributes have been given about Mdhara Tuku, but I just thought I should add this one, thanking him for the role he played through music. He united people. He counselled us. He helped us through grief and pain. He was part of our parties and celebrations. He reminded us of our culture and heritage. He taught us to love our roots. He gave soundtracks for love and happiness. Thank you, Mdhara Tuku.
Forever, we will remember you! I hope there is going to be a big and befitting honour for him. Tuku Arts Festival? Tuku Arts Centre? Tuku School of Music? Just throwing around random and unstructured thoughts. Thank you the City of Harare for renaming Willowvale Road to Dr Oliver Mtukudzi Road. Sixty-six albums in his 66 years of existence, what a man. There has been only one Tuku, and there will never be another Tuku. This gap is impossible to fill. As Tuku himself would say, “God doesn’t duplicate talent”.
“These shoes are too big for us. Let’s look for other shoes that we can fit…”, Winky D summed it all.
We salute the legend… Hamba kahle, qawe lethu!
Phenias F. Sadondo is a natural scientist (Biology), author and speaker. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com