April 4, 2003
Oliver Mtukudzi’s career as a musician kicked off in the late 1970s, when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, Ian Smith was in power, and the country was united under Robert Mugabe in a fight for independence.
At that time, Mtukudzi earned his popularity by performing political songs that spoke of resistance and national pride; later, with his album Africa (1980) he became the voice of the newly independent Zimbabwe.
Two decades and 44 albums later, when Zimbabwe is once again being ravaged by horrendous political violence, economic disaster, famine, and AIDS, Mtukudzi’s musical mix of groove and message is there to guide its fans through bad times.
My fans were the first to describe my music as Tuku music but it was only around the mid-'90s that I began to develop it as a brand name. My music doesn’t really qualify as one of the more classified styles of Zimbabwean music, like jit, sungura, chimurenga, or even traditional, so I suppose it has come about through having so many albums of music composed by me….44 albums to be precise.
I was asked once why African composers don't write more love songs...that made me think, but I guess it’s because so many African countries are still immersed in wars and struggles against disease, poverty, and famine, that love songs seem almost trivial.
For several years now, Zimbabwe has been a major focal point for the regional and international press. The message I would most like to convey to my listeners is that there are so many major catastrophes facing the African continent right now (like the AIDS pandemic, famine, etc.) that it is frustrating to witness governments that have been voted into power by the people spending so much time, energy, and often scarce resources on issues of conflict and power.
That’s a difficult question, I’m not sure I know the answer but I love being on stage and writing songs; it’s one of my real pleasures in life. I also think I am very lucky to have been able to develop my hobby into my career. My personal mission is to achieve recognition for my work and enjoy the process —I’m slowly getting there but it has been a long and winding road.
Of course I am—the dreams and the struggle for independence were shared by all. I still don’t understand why our government has chosen to sacrifice so much to retain the reins of power. The lack of tolerance toward dissenting voices is a great disappointment to me. Party politics will be the ruin of Africa especially when there are so many serious issues facing the country right now, like famine and AIDS. Why we can’t just combine all our energies to deal with these real-life issues is a mystery to me.
The spirit of the Zimbabwean people felt indomitable when we were unified leading up to independence in 1980, despite the many personal tragedies that so many people experienced. Fragmented as we are now, and with so many forces waging a different kind of war against us, it is critical that we put our differences behind us and find that kind of human spirit again.
I don’t believe either of us is literally urging the people to take up arms. The minute you engage in violence to win any struggle, you lose so much. For many, the wounds from the war for independence can never heal—I have watched that period of our history and can only urge the people to have the courage to speak from their hearts and let their voices be heard….might is not right! The government has a responsibility to create the conditions that facilitate that kind of forum for the good of the whole.
Probably my most consistent theme is the strength of unity. Divided we fall.