Zimbabwean music legend Oliver Mtukudzi dies

Wednesday January 23 2019

Oliver Mtukudzi

Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi who died on January 23, 2019. PHOTO | COURTESY  

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Legendary Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi has died at the age of 66 after suffering from diabetes.

He passed away Wednesday afternoon at the Avenues Hospital in Harare, ending a career that spanned four decades and 67 albums.

The prolific artist affectionately known as “Tuku” had been battling ill health for quite some time and had to cancel a number of musical bookings around the world as a result.

The lanky self-taught guitarist was a legend in the vibrant cross-genre music of Afro-jazz in a career that spanned 45 years.

"We've lost an icon," Zimbabwean lawmaker Temba Mliswa said on Twitter.

"I'm writing to the president to make him a national hero for his national contribution to the music, arts and culture industry."

Mtukudzi began performing in 1977 with US-based Zimbabwe musician Thomas Mapfumo, another successful artist whose protest music remains popular. They provided the sound of the revolution at a time when the country was fighting the government of Ian Smith.

Post independence he used his unmistakable husky voice to provide profound political and social commentary.

Mtukudzi's work was a mixture of ethnic styles, including the Zulu-rooted mbaqanga from South Africa, and drew on diverse instruments, including Zimbabwe's mbira, a metal-tined, hand-held instrument.

His lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/Aids and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.

One of his most famous songs, Todii, describes in both Shona and English how the HIV/Aids epidemic has devastated communities.

He became the most recognised artist to emerge from Zimbabwe onto the international scene and has earned a devoted following across Africa and beyond.

He was rated by Forbes magazine one of Africa's 10 most bankable artists and some experts ranked him alongside Senegal's Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour for his innovation and influence.

He was also famed for his philanthropy and defence of human rights, and served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN children's charity Unicef.

In 2001, his song Wasakara, loosely translated as “you are old” from the chart-topping album Bvuma/Tolerance, was interpreted by many to refer to Robert Mugabe, then Zimbabwe’s 77-year-old president, who won a disputed vote the year before.

Mtukudzi’s music cut across generations and in his later years he produced duets with younger musicians, some of whom he nurtured at his arts centre in Norton, outside Harare.

He has produced songs with South African group Black Mambazo as well as the late Hugh Masekela, the trumpeter and singer known as the “father of South African jazz” who used his music in the fight against apartheid.

In an interview with AFP last March, he said, he set great store by the words of his mother, who declared he would never sing a note better than his first scream after his birth.

"It means when I was born I had already started singing. This is who I am."