Bookreview: Robert Mukondiwa’s book: Oliver Mtukudzi and me: A Life in Song and Media

First, the book positions itself as a special insider’s story about Oliver Mtukudzi. This is a young man’s story about a man who is both his father and elder brother.

Robert Mukondiwa’s book; Oliver Mtukudzi and me: A Life in Song and Media, is a simple but very effective book for many reasons. Robert Mukondiwa is famed for his incisive feature articles, and it is evident throughout this book.

First, the book positions itself as a special insider’s story about Oliver Mtukudzi. This is a young man’s story about a man who is both his father and elder brother.

Books and journal articles on aspects of Oliver Mtukudzi’s music and life are fast increasing in number. We have a growing number of books specifically on the late Zimbabwean musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. There is one by Jennifer Kyker, another by Shepherd Mutamba and one multiple-authored academic book edited by Ezra Chitando. Each of these books takes a specific slant. Robert Mukondiwa’s book comes across as laid-back but equally penetrating.

Mukondiwa sets out on a particularly special trip; writing about “My Oliver…because that is how I would rather remember him… this, is after all my story…it is not the story of Oliver Mtukudzi. Or is it entirely mine…?”

You quickly sense that this could be a complicated book; now operating from under the water, now floating on the surface and sometimes having to become the water itself!

Mukondiwa creeps and crawls about, delicately linking his own life to the few but key moments he interacted closely with Oliver Mtukudzi — the man and the music. It is critical to realize that even Mukondiwa himself is not clear if the man and his music are always separate and that if they were separate, how and where would they confluence once more on their way home.

Not even once does Mukondiwa claim that this story is watertight and that is a strength. He admits that he is a fan. This is one point that he repeats all the way. However, he realizes that he has to write this story as a journalist. That is one warning that he raises all the way. And when the time comes, Mukondiwa learns that he is family with his hero. The multiple identities of the author propel this story in the manner of a thriller. You investigate a man and then realise that your target is, in fact, a relative!

This is also a story about huge fallout between Mukondiwa and Oliver Mtukudzi after Robert Mukondiwa and his colleague, Garikai Mazara, write about what Mwendi Chibindi chronicles in her diary; her private relationship with Oliver Mtukudzi. The late Mwendi was one of Oliver Mtukudzi backing vocalists. The Sunday Mail and Robert Mukondiwa and Garikai Mazara, are however stopped in their tracks through a court injunction.

Mukondiwa is caught in between. How do you deal with a man whose unsavory story you wrote about last week? Do you say, “How was my story, mkoma?”

Mukondiwa and Mazara try to write truthfully about some of the misdeeds of a man whose music they love dearly. As soon as they do that, they are conflicted and do not find peace for a long time. They learn that their occupation has deep hazards.

Then one day Mukondiwa receives a thorough beating by strangers at one of Mtukudzi’s shows at the Hellenics Arena in Harare in what appears like an ordinary scuffle. However, it is not clear if it is Mtukudzi who unleashes these men on Mukondiwa. And if it is Mtukudzi, could it be for the Mwendi story? A sweet revenge? When Mukondiwa and Mutukudzi finally make up, months later, neither of them is keen to discuss this nasty incident. They also cannot talk about Mwendi's diary.

Robert Mukondiwa of The Sunday Mail, is able to come close to Mtukudzi once more at an Emerald Hill house when Mtukudzi is rehearsing with the band for an anti-malarial campaign.

When Mukondiwa and his news crew get to the house, Mtukudzi and band are immediately apprehensive. They pause briefly and Mtukudzi himself asks, “Ndianiko uyu? Ndashaya.” (Who are you? I can’t recall your identity) Mtukudzi could be standoffish and vengeful when it suited him, Mukondiwa soon learns.

Later on, as they walk about with Mtukudzi for an interview, Robert volunteers, “I am Nhari une ndoro. A Nzou too.” Then Mtukudzi warms up and says, “Uri munin’ina wangu.”

They also discover that Robert Mukondiwa’s father, the veteran journalist Pascal Mukondiwa, actually had a long standing relationship with Mtukudzi on account of their being fellow Nzous and that Robert’s mother is a childhood friend of Mtukudzi.

Mtukudzi admires his rival’s ability to write about the arts and his critical ear for good music. Soon Robert is being asked by Mtukudzi to listen to the demo tapes of his forthcoming albums to give the elder an honest opinion. Robert evaluates the elder’s work without flinching.

Mukondiwa goes: “The lyrical content of the (Tsivo) album was flawless, the beautiful Korekore dialect and rhymes, which were his most distinct… then I talked about the rather sh- mastering. Someone had to do so!”

The young man had done what was generally not allowed, pointing out Mtukudzi’s mistakes. But when he meets with Mtukudzi a few days after the damning review, Robert is terrified, unsure of the elder’s reaction:



“I read the story you wrote this past Sunday about the album. I am glad you have that ear for music. You see, I was not happy with the mixing and mastering. I pondered once whether to release it like that but it would be unfair to the fans so we had it redone. In fact, that is why it is not available on the local market… Now I know that you are a real mukorekore, not a fake one,” Mtukudzi said.”

One day Mtukudzi asks Robert to accompany him to Muzarabani to see Robert’s father who had retired from the media. This becomes a trip during which Robert had the greatest insights into the life and music of Oliver Mtukudzi.

They are on the road trip, alongside someone called Uncle Nick. Mtukudzi talks about his youth and his battle with diabetes. They go to Muzarabani and on the way back they go through Mtukudzi’s rural home at Kasimbwi, Madziva. It is a very loaded trip. The longest stretch of continuous time any writer has ever dedicated to Mtukudzi.

Deep in the Muzarabani night, Mtukudzi, Uncle Nick and Robert’s brother travel even deeper into the Dande valley…Where were they going? The mystery continues!

The climax of this book is the death of Sam Mtukudzi and Owen Chimhare in a horrific road accident. This death shakes the foundation of the Mtukudzi family. Mtukudzi is inconsolable, sometimes walking about screaming and waving his hands. Then at some point, he sings into the ear of his dead son. Sam’s mother is worse off. The lioness has lost its beloved cub.

The narrator is young and harmless, so it seems. He cannot compete against Mtukudzi. It is an unequal relationship. The narrator’s relationship with Mtukudzi allows him to go into many of Mtukudzi’s foibles without using the word foible. Robert does not rush to praise Mtukudzi for his immense talent. It simply comes out. He is the boy in the vicinity of a great man who happens to be a familiar man.

This is a story that touches on many other characters on the Zimbabwean entertainment scene; William Chikoto, Josh Hozheri, Garikai Mazara, J. Masters, Tongai Moyo, Debbie Metcalfe and others.

This story exits with Mtukudzi’s death and his colorful funeral. This effortless book is easy to read as it does not claim authority over anything. And yet it establishes the fact that Oliver Mtukudzi had a life beyond music. “There will be other stories, but this story has been about Oliver Mtukudzi and ME,” Robert Mukondiwa signs off.

  • About author
  • Robert Garikai Mukondiwa is a Zimbabwean based scriptwriter, author, biographer, television journalist, voiceover-artiste, presenter, arts, film and music critic from Zimbabwe.

About the reviewer

  • Memory Chirere is a Zimbabwean writer. He enjoys reading and writing short stories and some of his stories are published in No More Plastic Balls (1999), A Roof to Repair (2000), Writing Still (2003) and Creatures Great and Small(2005). He has published short story books; Somewhere in This Country (2006), Tudikidiki (2007) and Toriro and His Goats (2010). Together with Maurice Vambe, he compiled and edited (so far the only full volume on Mungoshi): Charles Mungoshi: A Critical Reader (2006). His new book is a 2014 collection of poems entitled: Bhuku Risina Basa Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati. He is with the University of Zimbabwe (in Harare) where he lectures in literature. Email: [email protected]

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