By Mtandazo Dube
His debut album in 2008, “Rume Rimwe”, was a bold statement announcing his arrival on the Zimbabwean music scene and declaring the intention to be “his own man”.
The second album, “Cheziya”, also asserted the artistes journey to self-discovery. It was supposed to have coincided with his 22nd birthday on April 1, 2010.
But Sam Mutukudzi had died.
It has been eight years since Sam and his engineer, Owen Chimhare, died in a horrific car crash as they drove to Norton from Harare.
In that time, I have had several interviews with Sam’s father, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, either as he released posthumous albums by his son or around the date on which he died.
It’s through these interviews that we have come to know much of Sam: how he foretold his death through song; how hard working and disciplined he was; the visionary that resided within him, even at that tender age of 21.
Posthumous releases like “Ngariende” are quite popular and the likes of Gary Tight are quick to do renditions at live shows.
And, as I pored through “Tuku Backstage Second Edition”, Shepherd Mutamba’s latest book on Mtukudzi, the chapter titled “Son(s)” stayed with me long after I had finished reading the book.
As we remember Sam, The Sunday Mail Society reproduces excerpts from Mutamba’s book, which hit bookstores last Monday.
Sam was Tuku’s second child with Daisy. He was born on April fool’s day in 1988 in the city of Kwekwe.
At only four years of age, the younger Mtukudzi started showing an inclination towards music; something quite unusual for someone of that age. While children his age went out to play with toys, Sam was to be found deeply engrossed in music, imitating his father’s song and trying his luck on the guitar all by himself. No one really took notice of him over the years until the day Tuku saw him playing at a school function.
“I discovered when he was the age of 10, when he invited me and his mother to his school. And on the programme I saw Sam was featuring under entertainment and I said ‘oh, oh, oh!’ And I saw my own amplifier being taken on stage, my own guitar being taken on stage and he played two songs or so. I thought this was a bit too early for my son, but what comforted me most was that he was playing own compositions. I said. ‘Son, that amplifier and guitar are mine, next time don’t steal instruments’. From that time I saw the art in him and promoted it and not what I wanted him to be or what his mother wanted him to be (a pilot)”.
At high school, at Prince Edward School, in Harare, Sam had the opportunity to develop his talent because the institution offered the facilities to pursue music and he learned to play the mbira, drums, marimba, saxophone and guitar.
Sam formed AY Band in 2006 and released his debut album with “Rume Rimwe” (2007) but occasionally joined his father on tour.
He detoured into acting and played the leading role in the award-winning short film “Chipo Changu” (2006), directed by Arnold Shoko and produced by Tuku. He also did the opening and closing sound tracks on the film and had plans to do more work in film, including setting up a training studio for young camera persons.
All was set for the public launch of his second album “Cheziya” to coincide with his birthday on April 1, 2010. Tragically, he died a fortnight before the event. I remember Sam most for his philosophy of life and extraordinary power of artistic creativity for someone just coming out of his teens. Tuku even affirmed that at 21, he himself had not achieved what Sam had attained at the same age; materially or artistically. Sam was able to pack so much into the 21 years that he lived.
The boy never really struggled to write and arrange music. His arrangement, where he fused classical jazz beats, was even more complex than Tuku’s. He was developing into a musical prodigy.
The two used the acoustic-cum-electric north America-made Godin guitars as the main instrument for their melody. Although still so young, Sam was already building his legacy in music.
We sat together as board members at Pakare Paye Arts Centre and Tuku Music. He was the youngest director, but ideas on arts development and business far surpassed those of most of us; including his father and mother. Tuku and Daisy were building the Tuku music empire and arts centre with their son in mind.
Although he was advantaged, having been born in a wealthy family, Sam never rode on the fame and success of his father and didn’t want to be judged as Tuku’s son. He was warm and down to earth and humble for a son of an icon and would use public buses and nobody would notice him.
Sam would tour the world capitals performing with Tuku and back home he easily played with the same zest for the most ordinary fans in dingy bars where drunkards vomit on the dance floor.
Easy going and not really fussy about bling-bling, Sam was at home in Jeans, T-Shirts and moccasins. He interchanged gold and silver necklaces and wore his pants dropped the swagger way.
Tall and handsome, Sam chased pretty girls in town and even across the border, in Johannesburg, where he was dating, Laika Masuku, who travelled to his funeral and memorial. Laika is closely related to singer Dorothy Masuku. Sam never made it a secret that he had a knack for attracting gorgeous young women. He was charming all the way.
Castle Larger was Sam’s favourite drink, and he smoked cigarettes but tried hard to hide that habit. I caught him once sharing weed with his band members backstage before the show.
I could bear with him because he was outgrowing the influence of teen life and maturing into adulthood to be a proper man, responsible and respectable.
It would have been unfair to judge him badly. Youngsters, anywhere in the world, grapple with the challenges of growing up. He was young and still developing discipline.
If you met Sam and did not like him, instantly there was something wrong with you. He was lovable young and very debonair.
The use of alcohol got out of hand in Sam’s band during the days when the group was managed by Ropa Viriri. She was seeing Sam, at the same time, and the office romance compromised things badly.
Indiscipline became quite an issue in the band. Some of the band members were actually hooked on alcohol and weed and got plastered so badly that they would time and again fail to play.
Tuku censured bad behaviour in Sam’s group, but gave up on at AY Band not long after Sam’s death, largely due to disciplinary issues. The band dissolved in 2011.
Martha Badza, who had assumed the lead vocals after Sam’s death, died from natural causes. Tatenda Kanjantu, the drummer, committed suicide. Sammy Tsatsi, the bassist, went to follow the Jesus Christ and never saw him again. Alastas Mushoriwa worked as a session musician playing keyboard and doing studio productions. Tawanda Ndoro rehabilitated into a responsible young man and joined Harare-based singer Alexio Kawara and Shades of Black as a guitarist.
Sam was close to his father, to the extent that they were friends more than father and son. He would prepare a meal, invite his father over to his place for super and never really addressed Tuku as dad or father but called him by his totem Nzou (the elephant). Tuku put into perspective the relationship that he had with Sam.
“My friends are always complaining that they’ve problems with their children but I was so close to my son. He knew me very well, as did I him. Some parents don’t know their sons because they don’t have relations with their children. He was just a good young man and I didn’t have problems with him. When he stepped out of the line it was only one word and he was back doing the right thing.
“One moment that makes me smile when I think about him is the time he spoke with me when I was in South Africa and he was in Harare. He was supposed to pick me up at the airport in Harare and I changed my mind and I didn’t travel. I sent him a text that I was no longer coming, but unfortunately the text didn’t reach him. So he called me and said ‘Nzou, ko ndeipi? (Nzou, what’s up?) Listen, you supposed to be flying here, so what are u doing at the bus stop?’ We laughed at the joke and I apologised for the undelivered text. Those were the last words between me and my son.” Sam had a huge input in the building plans at the second phase of Pakare Paye Arts Centre, where he suggested the construction of what was to be named after him posthumously as Sam Mtukudzi Conference Centre, a multi-purpose facility that accommodates 2 000 fans.
Daisy loved her son but they had their own tense moments on certain issues that prompted Sam to leave the family home to stay at one of Tuku’s mansions across town in Norton.
Sam wanted to study in America where he had friends who had previously worked together with him on musical projects.
But Daisy wanted her boy to stay and prepare him for bigger things in the family empire; something Sam was not ready to do before he had seen the world and accomplished his studies overseas.
Even at the tender age of 21, Sam would mediate and bring his father and mother together when there was friction.
If Sam was alive today I bet the antagonism between his sisters Selmor and Sandra and Tuku would not have deteriorated to a point where a father and his daughters do not see eye to eye. And possibly Daisy would not be fighting Tuku and chasing him with a gun.
Sam was the bond that held the family together. His fortitude, charm and wit united everyone.
That is why, when Tuku grieved over the loss, his pain was tangible because he knew what the loss meant to the family.
“I’ve to learn to live without Sam because the loss won’t go away. He was more of a friend than a son and those memories are difficult to erase. He was somebody I was looking to.”
Tuku went back on the road to continue with the scheduled shows a fortnight after Sam’s passing.
The shows helped Tuku with the difficult process of trying to unlock from the loss. At his first show after Sam’s death, at Blues Room, in Johannesburg, in May 2010, Tuku told his fans: “This is my first show since the departure of my son. You see, when we’ve children no one bothers to find out how much time we’re going to have with the children.
“We’re so happy that the child is born today but when it happens that the child is no more that’s when we realise that we didn’t have much time with our children. I’m not here to regret but I’m here to celebrate. I’ve to celebrate the 21 years of a wonderful relationship with my son. I was very lucky that my son took after my profession. I’m even more proud of him now than before.”
Tuku gives an insight into Sam’s last days.“The week before Sam’s death he was busy in the studio and didn’t have time for anything else. I thought he was overdoing things. I didn’t want to stop him, but I wanted to slow him down. He was sleeping in the studio and needed to relax, socialise and come back to the studio refreshed.
“It’s like he knew that he was going and wanted to complete the album. I didn’t want to influence his music and I didn’t go into the studio with him during his recording. I would only go in to see if he was doing things the right way to conform to certain recording standards.
“When he was recording the track ‘Cheziya’, Sam avoided us until he played the music while we were on tour in Bulawayo and he asked me and his mother to listen to the song. There is a lot of stuff in the studio that he didn’t include on ‘Cheziya’.
“We will compile the songs and put them on CD. He was also recording some of his shows live at places like the Book Café, Sports Diner and so on. I’ve come across the music and I’ll compile that for another CD. My favourite track on ‘Cheziya’ is ‘Ishe’ because listening to the lyrics now I see that he wrote the song for me.”
“Cheziya” is clairvoyant and Tuku regarded the album as a gift from Sam to his mother and to himself.
“Cheziya is a gift that I’ll treasure for life because the album has extraordinary meaning that my son was conveying to me. The album reflects Sam saying goodbye and I say so because of his profound lyrics.
“Sam was consoling me and his mother over his passing which he foretold in his music. That’s what I see when I look at events now in retrospect. ‘Cheziya’ has a lot to do with us as the Mtukudzi family. It talks about the power of God that He is there for us. But above all, ‘Cheziya’ celebrates the life of a young man, lived entirely well to the end.”
Daisy said of the album: “Whenever I listen to Cheziya I find myself communicating with my son. The album provides the strength for me to move on daily, albeit untold difficulty. I want to be strong. I want Sam to give me strength.
“The album has so much meaning now after Sam’s death. It’s an album full of prophesy where Sam exhorts us to be strong when he is gone. Cheziya looks at life and its values in a deeply philosophical manner for such a young boy.”
Sam loaded the ten-track album with spiritual songs, a man’s prayer seeking the providence of God in tracks “Ishe” (Lord) and “Famba Zvakanaka” (Farewell).
Two major projects involving Sam and Tuku were concurrent in 2010. Perekedza Mwana was Sam’s concept for a local musical tour.
His idea was that Tuku accompanied him to the venues where the senior Mtukudzi performed in his 1970s formative years, places like the historic Mushandira Pamwe Hotel and Mabvuku in Harare, Chivhu and Mupandawana in Gutu, in Southern Zimbabwe.
Tuku supported the concept because he believed the tour had the potential to mentor his son and other young artistes on the virtues of humble beginnings.
Tuku and son teamed up and went on the road together, starting at Mushandirapamwe Hotel, in February 2010, just a month before Sam died. The show sold out and brought so many memories back to Tuku. The hotel is the place where artistes of Tuku’s generation, of the pre-1980 Independence era, converged.
If you were a musician and didn’t play there you were nobody.
After Mushandirapamwe Hotel the plan was to take Perekedza Mwana to Chivhu next. Before Chivhu, Sam was to team up again with Tuku for a musical “Nzou neMhuru muDanga” before continuing with “Perekedza Mwana”.
“Nzou neMhuru muDanga” was a musical about the values of family hood and featured Sam, Tuku and Daisy. It was shot on location at the 7 Arts Theatre, in Harare, in February 2010, with a cast of 20 artistes.
The musical was set in an imaginary kraal that symbolised Tuku’s home where his family lived happily and safe together. Between the two productions, Sam was hectic in the studio finalising the recording of Cheziya.
Sam performed what became his last show at the now defunct Sports Diner, Harare, on Saturday, 13th March 2010. I watched his gig that night from beginning to end and photographed the show.
We bade each other farewell after the performance and he left. The farewell was our last goodbyes. I stayed on to drink until the early hours of the following morning.
Tragedy struck less than 48 hours later, on Monday, 15th March 2010. Sam and Owen were driving home to Norton, from Harare, in Tuku’s Tata truck.
Owen was behind the wheel.
Owen had left his family home in Warren Park, in Harare, to share accommodation with Sam in Norton. From his modest earnings, Sam had bought a large plasma screen, a hi-fi radio set and a few other electronic gadgets, the usual fantasy of every techno-minded young man.
House mates said Sam and Owen loved to play the hi-fi at very high volume whenever they arrived home even in the early morning hours. Happy dudes who loved music.
I was home working on my laptop when the phone rang. It was around 2am. Calls from colleagues, at the office, were unusual at such hours. I knew something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong. Owen and Sam had died.
I woke my wife up and told her about the tragedy and left her in tears as I headed to the scene of the accident. She had grown to like Sam.
Police were recovering the bodies and taking them initially to the mortuary at the Harare Hospital, towards the southern end of the city, which they thought was nearer, but changed and drove them to Parirenyatwa Central Hospitals, closer to the city centre where mortuary attendants advised that the bodies be taken to a private funeral parlour instead.
The mortuary at Parirenyatwa was full or something.
It was just after 5am when the bodies finally arrived at the funeral parlour.
Typical of Zimbabwe’s pathetic police services, the bodies were moved all along in an open truck … Everyone could easily see the still bodies in the police truck. Sam with his head resting on the left side of his face and both hands held together on his abdomen. Owen, resting his head on his right hand and the left arm placed on the side of his left leg.
Both had visible head injuries.
Their washed out jeans bloodied and T-shirts soaked too; Sam wearing a blue top, Owen red. They wore near-identical footwear, Owen’s being trendy black tennis shoes with laces and Sam’s black moccasins.
I noticed that their pants were lowered the swagger way as usual.
But there would be no more gigs now, no more pretty girls, no more drink and late nights; just eternal peace in the midst of angels.
Tuku was still in South Africa and travelling back to Harare the same day of the tragedy and we needed to communicate the news of Sam’s death to him and Daisy who was accompanying him.
I left that responsibility to Tuku’s band manager, Sam Mataure, who was more actively involved in the organisation of things on the ground.
When I checked with Mataure a few hours later, whether Tuku had been phoned and advised about his son’s death, Mataure said Tuku had indeed been informed by one of the relatives.
I had no reason to doubt Mataure and I did not see the need to independently verify his statement with the said relative.
That was a stupid and amateurish mistake on my part.
Yes Tuku had been phoned and told that his son had been involved in an accident but injured only and receiving treatment.
The decision, not to inform Tuku of the death itself, was made by family and relatives because they wanted to avoid sending Tuku and Daisy into shock while they were in transit back home.
Rather, it had been decided that Tuku and Daisy would be told of the news of the death only upon arrival home.
The news of Sam’s death was already on social media networks and the Press had already picked it up and seeking official confirmation from me.
Based on the false information, that Mataure had given me, that Tuku and Daisy were now fully aware of Sam’s passing, I released the news, officially, to the press. Within minutes the news was all over the radio and television.
It was the story of the day the whole of Zimbabwe.
Tuku and Daisy learnt about their son’s death from a stranger, on arrival at Harare International Airport (now Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport). A security guard, on duty in arrivals lounge, who had heard about the tragedy on radio news, greeted Tuku and extended condolences.
All along Tuku did not know that his son had died, but believed that he was only hurt.
He broke down as even more people at the airport came forward to console him. It was at that moment that point that it dawned upon him that his son was gone.
He was driven straight to the funeral parlour where both bodies were drawn from the cold-rooms for him and Daisy to view.
I should not have released the statement, on Sam’s death, based on Mataure’s information alone. The right thing would just have been to wait for Tuku’s arrival; after all, he was only two or so hours away.
It was unprofessional for a man of my experience to use unverified information in sensitive matters of bereavement, no matter how much I trusted the source of the information.
I failed Tuku and I am sorry.
Tuku was totally shattered when he viewed his son’s body. The moment was heart rending. He was crestfallen and stood there dead-faced before mumbling words that I took to be ritual communication to his son.
Daisy wept despondently and laid both her hands on Sam’s remains. One moment she did not have the strength to stand, while viewing the body, and the next moment she was enraged and charging towards a busy road, in face of oncoming traffic, in an apparent suicide attempt.
Three strong adult men battled for several minutes to subdue her and yanked her back into the courtyard of the funeral parlour, which was chocking with mourners and the usual onlookers.
An army of journalists poured into Norton to cover the church service for Sam and Owen, held jointly at the giant arena at Pakare Paye Arts Centre.
The similar caskets were placed side by side and over 2 500 mourners attended the service. At least 5 000 people attended the burial itself at Warren Hills Cemetery, in Harare.
There was hardly any space for Tuku and Daisy at the grave but they managed to place flowers on the grave when mourners were dispersing.
Sam and Owen were buried side by side. They worked side by side, lived side by side and perished side by side.
Now they are resting side by side. The Sunday Mail