People of Zimbabwe have seen it all. Colonization, oppression at the hands of fellow black people, Mugabe, Civil Wars, Famine, Diseases, Prosperity, Westernization, and a great history peppered with a rich culture. A country that has seen and experienced so much can only provide to the world of music like no other. Zimbabwean music is little known outside the tiny nation and even in the country itself, most people do not have time for music with politics playing the spoilsport almost every time there has to be a concert or a recording.
Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi is one of the most famous and recognizable artists from Zimbabwe and was born in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1952. His music has been classified under World Music, but his roots lie with Mamma Afrika, or Mother Africa. Having led an almost noble life, Tuku has contributed so much to the world of music that he has been awarded so many times, he does not remember them himself!
He was the member of a band called Wagon Wheels and was heavily influenced by Chimurenga, a genre that is rich in the rhythms of Mbira or the thumb piano. There is hardly any information about him available online, but the Internet is full of video and audio clips that regale the listener with those sounds from a continent that is rooted in misery, joy and life.
“Isu vana tofara sei?” he asks in one of his songs. It means, “How can we children be happy?” and true to that question, the people (children) of Zimbabwe have been subjected to all kinds of atrocities both from within and outside. Though most people may identify Zimbabwean misery with that of the blacks, the Whites have suffered a similar fate too, and it all has boiled down to dirty politics. Tuku makes use of traditional African instruments and a unique style that sets him apart from the rest of the Zimbabwean musicians.
Much of his songs are about the simple people of the country where alcoholism, domestic violence, drug addiction, crime and other social evils are rampant. Through his music, he reveals that these problems are common to all societies, regardless of nationality, race, or religion. Perhaps that is the magic of music, for it connects and bonds with people across the globe, regardless of who sang or wrote that couplet. Meanwhile, Tuku leads a “normal” life in a not so normal Zimbabwe.