Nhava (Heads Up International HUCD 3102, 2005)
Like many listeners, I was first captivated by the music of Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi when Putumayo began releasing his albums stateside in the late ’90s. It wasn’t hard to get hooked- the sweet moan of Mtukudzi’s voice and the insistent melodic hooks of his songs were melded with rhythms that seemed to send you dancing into a brighter tomorrow even when he addressed such bleak topics as AIDS.
The title of Mtukudzi’s Heads Up International debut, Nhava, refers to the Zimbabwean word for a carrying bag or satchel. And this time he’s packed more in the bag. Sparkling acoustic and electric guitars are still front and center most of the time and a feel somewhere between lilting and lamenting still dominates (particularly in the South African township quality the arrangements often suggest). But there are some funkier grooves here, a few percussion-fueled jolts and moments that are less laid-back than you might have expected from this man’s music in the past.
The contrasts unfold as the album progresses, underscoring the differences between, for example, the gradually awakening mood of “Tiri Mubindu” and the harder-hitting “Dzokai” that follows. Lyrically, Mtukudzi continues to dole out parabolic common sense, advising of the need to be humble, to be respectful of fellow human beings and the environment and to seek divine intervention in all
things. Thanks to his potent melodic skills, none of it comes out sounding sappy. In fact, it sounds terrific. Along with Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi is a mighty force in Zimbabwean music today, and Nhava finds him in peak form.