If gone too soon was a person . . . Remembering Tuku
By Mthabisi Tshuma, Yoliswa Dube, Bongani Ndlovu
Late afternoon on January 23, 2019 as scores of Zimbabweans across the country wound up their business for the day, shocking news from the Avenues Clinic in Harare came that the legend who had penned Todii, Neria, Mbabvu Yangu and Tozeza Baba had breathed his last.
Dr Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi died at the age of 65 after a long battle with diabetes.
Tuku was not only a musician but a father, uncle, sibling, businessman, philanthropist, human rights activist and mentor among other attributes. He died with 65 albums under his belt, a number that has not been surpassed by any artiste in the country.
Samanyanga collaborated with various greats such as Hugh Masekela, Ringo Madlingozi, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bonnie Deuschle, Winky D and Berita Khumalo among others.
His friend with whom he conquered the African music scene, Bra Hugh, died on the same day two years ago.
During his spare time, Tuku would dedicate his services to the community as well as doing charity performances. At one point, he surprised a young couple in Waterfalls, Harare with a performance on their wedding day.
Nzou took part in HIV/Aids awareness campaigns and was a UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa. He used the power of music and impactful lyrics to speak out against stigma, discrimination and abuse of children and inspired people at all levels of society to take action on behalf of children.
The gap he left seems too big to fill as a year later, UNICEF is yet to appoint an ambassador to replace him.
As part of his humanitarian work, at one time, Tuku led a team of 30 local artistes to visit and assist Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims in Mwenezi.
His fashion sense was quite astonishing as he wore what his peers considered clothes for the young. Haikobo, a designer shoe range, was close to his heart as he went to pains to popularise it.
Even during the time leading to his death, he had not lost his fashion sense as he once trended on social media after being spotted wearing trendy slim fit jeans paired with his signature sling bag, which is still popular today.
Tuku was never too busy to take a picture with a fan, exchange pleasantries or offer a word of encouragement.
“During his performances, the music icon made it a point to connect with fans on a personal level. He didn’t care about numbers – his performances were always top notch, no matter how small the crowd was.
“He was a journalists’ dream. Whenever he accepted to do an interview, one was guaranteed of a no holds barred sort of interaction. His death left a huge gap in the arts fraternity and many were devastated by the fact that the “real” celebration of Tuku only came after his untimely demise.
On Sunday, Tuku’s daughter, Selmor said she still could not believe that her father was no more. “Dad, it will be a whole year on the 23rd of January yet my heart still skips a beat when I hear your music being played. Hana yangu inorova when they refer to you as ‘the late’. I still can’t believe it. Even though I never saw you every day, just knowing that you were there meant worlds to me. Now you are gone,” wrote Selmor on her Facebook page.
For years, Selmor’s relationship with her father was a topic of discussion as most were made to believe that it was strained after Selmor made sensational claims in the media in 2012 that the superstar was a neglectful father. In her defence, Selmor said, “People may not have understood the relationship we had.
“You and I know how in the last days you wanted so much to let everybody know how much we cared for each other through a song (because that’s how we communicated), but I guess God didn’t care what people thought. He took you before we could do it.”
She went on to post one of the last conversations she had with her father where they were discussing recording a song meant to celebrate and unite the Mtukudzi clan.
“…ndine song yandichatumira Aaron kuti muise ma voice, iwe naShupi pake pake. It’s about us as a family, Shami ane pake, Sybil ane pakewo naTete Bybit. I’ll try and give you the lyrics for each of you,” wrote Tuku on the chats.
Sadly, Selmor said they ended up not recording the song as Tuku died four days after the conversation. However, the musician who has been hard at work ensuring that her father’s legacy does not die, said she will today release a song titled Mandidzimbira in memory of her father.
Tuku’s band, the Black Spirits, up to today has the huge task of ensuring that Tuku’s music leaves an impact on whoever is listening to it.
Band members said things have not been the same since the demise of their leader.
The last manager to handle Tuku’s affairs, Walter Wanyanya, who is also his nephew said it was important for them to keep Tuku’s memory alive.
“He’s greatly missed by all of us. For us, it’s more about celebrating his life and work whenever we get to the stage or when we are in the public eye,” Wanyanya said. He said the Black Spirits who spent the better part of last year performing at various shows with different artistes leading them in place of their boss, would not be dismantled.
Hip hop musician Cal_Vin whose talent was once appreciated by Tuku said: “I can’t believe it’s been a year now. Tuku was an icon on earth and now he’s an icon in heaven. As artistes, we miss the old man and we will try to relive his legacy.”
Munyaradzi Mataruse, one of the prominent voices that was groomed by Tuku at his Pakare Paye Arts Centre said his mentor’s death was a great loss. He said the first thing he learnt from Tuku was respect and humility.
“As you know, Pakare Paye Arts Centre is the brainchild of Mtukudzi. It has changed people’s lives. Through the centre, we now have musicians like me and as you know, the best person to groom a carpenter should be a carpenter,” Mataruse told our sister newspaper, The Herald.
He said he serves Tuku’s legacy by continuously working with Pakare Paye Arts Centre in grooming artistes, organising events and staging regular shows.
Another one of his protégés, Mbeu, said Tuku was a father figure who always told him to behave well.
“As someone who was close to him, he treated me like his son as he always tried to instill good behaviour in me before he taught me about music. My parents died when I was young and I never got the chance to feel their love but things changed when Tuku became part of my life. He became my father.”
A week before Tuku died, Mbeu said he was invited to Samanyanga’s home for lunch.
“Tuku gave me some advice a week before he died when he invited me to his home in Norton. He said what was important was not you the human being, but the song that you make. It’s the song that people respect not you the person. That was his main philosophy. The song will travel to all continents but you can’t as you’ll be sitting at home. He told me to stay humble.
“Tuku said when I’m given a platform to perform and be a curtain raiser, I should do so. Even if you’re at a virtually empty venue, perform as if it was filled to the brim.” These sentiments proved true at Tuku’s final show in Bulawayo where he had to perform at a virtually empty venue during the Spring Feelings Jazz Festival on September 7, 2018.
The few fans who paid were lucky to see Tuku for the last time in the city before his death four months later.
Afro soul musician Bekezela who was part of the Spring Feelings Jazz Festival line-up and had the luxury of spending the whole day with Tuku before the show said,
“I spent the whole day with him and we moved around together. He was not a big talker but a great listener. There was a time we were asked by members of the media if people should expect a collaboration between us. He said why not,” said Bekezela.
He believes that Tuku left him the baton saying he even dreamt about him after his death.
“I’d been invited to eNCA to perform a special tribute for Tuku. I remember that I wanted to perform Neria, but I wasn’t getting the notes and keys right while practising. This was frustrating and I then dosed off. Tuku appeared to me in a dream. We didn’t talk much, we were seated somewhere, then we walked into a room, he looked at me and I looked at him,” said Bekezela.
He said when he woke up, every note and key fell into place.
“I then woke up and when I started playing Neria, I was hitting the right notes with my voice and plucking the right keys with my acoustic guitar. From that day on, it was perfect. I believe as a spiritual being that he had passed on the baton,” said Bekezela.
Afro fusion band Ngoma Ingoma, which is visibly inspired by Tuku said the legend is missed dearly. “This is a man who artistes/bands in Zimbabwe still and will always respect. Almost every band’s performance at functions has one of his songs, a sign of how big the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi was,” one of the band members, Prince Joel Nyoni said.
Music promoter Dee Nosh of DTL Events said: “It’s been a year without the legend. We lost a very professional artist and now, mature music lovers are being starved of his calibre of music.”
Nzou, Samanyanga, the great elephant – no one will ever pull at the strings of that acoustic guitar the way you did. The mic you sang and coughed into will hear of that no more. The songs you did not sing must mourn the loss of being unsung. REST IN POWER LEGEND! The Chronicle