By Godwin Muzari
In 1989, Oliver Mtukudzi fell ill and he was bed-ridden for nine months. As he was groaning with physical pain in bed, his heart was bleeding because he was unable stage shows. Doctors warned him against the emotional strain and advised him not to worry about many things as stress could worsen his condition.
He wanted to follow doctors’ instructions in order to a have quick recovery, but he also wanted to serve the people closest to his heart — his fans. Tuku wanted to resume work and fend for his family, but the pain got worse.
Torn between physical and emotional pain, Tuku knew he had to make a decision. To sacrifice health or his career?
That was the big question.
He knew other musicians were staging shows every weekend. In fact, those days mid-week shows were common and other singers were doing rotations in popular venues almost every day. Strumming guitars, singing, dancing and enjoying themselves in the process of bringing joy to their fans.
Tuku was in bed, but his ear was on the ground. He heard stories about musicians that were pulling the biggest crowds and singers that had just released hot albums.
Finally, he made that tough decision to defy frailty and answer a career call. He went to the studio in a condition that his producers only tolerated because of personal trust.
In the studio, he began a harrowing task of recording the album “Zvauya Sei?”
He had to do something for his fans and for his calling, but it was not an easy walk. Figuratively, he crawled through the stretch of studio sessions. Up to now, “Zvauya Sei?” is the album that Tuku took the longest time to record.
Such is the determination that has enabled the country’s music superstar to record albums that surpass his age. He turned 64 on Thursday last week and officially unveiled his 65th album, “Eheka! Nhai Yahwe” on the day.
That was the day he poured his heart to this writer about the force that has spurred him to outdo himself in album releases and score a 65/64 mark.
The 65 albums were actually done in 38 years because his first album —besides early singles — was released in 1978.
About an hour after an eventful private birthday and album release party at his Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton last Thursday, the bubbly birthday boy spoke about his journey, beginning with the trying time of making “Zvauya Sei?” which was a passionate prayer to the Almighty questioning how misfortune had stalked him.
Completing the song, let alone other tracks on the album was a mountainous task, Tuku recalls.
“I had to go against the doctors’ advice. I went to the studio in a pathetic condition and I struggled through the lines. I would do one line and take a rest before going for the next take. It was the toughest recording of my career,but I had to do it. I had to do it for my fans and for my satisfaction and for my career. I believe that is the urge that has enabled me to do so many albums,” said Tuku.
For a long time, Tuku released two albums per year and he reckons yesteryear producers gave him the urge to go on.
“There is a huge difference between current producers and those that made music many years ago. Those days producers did not prioritise money. There was passion among artistes and their producers and everyone wanted a good product. The producers would tell us to go back and practise if they were not impressed. That is why musicians of those years produced albums that still sound new and it big on the market now.
“These days, producers are making songs from the same beats and same computer programmes which compromises the final product. I still record using live instruments and that style has kept me going. People know my music and my style. I try my best to keep that style.
“It is unique because Oliver Mtukudzi came up with the style. It is different from the way young musicians do it. If you hear a dancehall song from one artiste, sometimes you can rarely differentiate it from other songs. The creativity is no longer there and the future of our music is in jeopardy.”
Tuku said he managed to release so many albums because he always worked hard to give good products to his fans.
“We felt obliged to give our fans new material every time. We did not wait for an album to fade away in order to do another one. We actually felt obliged to give our fans new releases even when they did not expect a new product. Releasing albums was a priority and every musician wanted to have new material on the market.”
The musician said they spent more time doing rehearsals in order to convince producers that they had material ready for the market.
“We spent most of the time rehearsing. We knew it was common to be turned away and we had to do the best. I was lucky to record an album while I was ill because the producers were strict. These days producers consider the money that you have to pay.
“They are not attached to the product. We would rehearse and take the songs for sampling at live shows. We altered the songs according to responses from fans and by the time we went to the studio everything was set.”
Tuku said their albums were monitored by the Censorship Board before release and he had to change an album title to conform with the needs of the board.
“My album ‘Shanje’ was initially called ‘Pfambi’ and the Censorship Board did not approve the initial title. They said I could not have a title that refers to prostitutes because it was an immoral issue. We had to destroy some sleeves that we had made for the album since the title was no longer wanted.
“Such was the music business. Everyone involved in the industry was serious and that is why I managed to keep recording albums until they surpassed my age. It is a passion and I do not do it for sales or popularity. I will keep releasing albums as long as I can still record the music. I did it when I was ill and I do more with time.”
Tuku’s albums on the list of 65 include “Svovi Yangu”, “Nyanga Yenzou”, “Paivepo”, “Vhunze Moto”, “Tuku Music”, “Shoko”, “Chingambwe”, “Ziwere”, “Tsivo”, “Sarawoga”, “Nhava”, “Dairai”, “Ivai Navo”, “Tsimba Istoka”, “Ndega Zvangu” and Mukombe Wemvura”. The Herald