Tsimba Itsoka (Heads Up International, 2007)
Zimbabwe’s Afro Pop icon Oliver Mtukudzi‘s latest CD entitled Tsimba Itsoka, released before his October 2007 North American tour, is bright and breezy on the surface while it soberly questions how we live our lives. The title translated literally means "no foot, no footprint," transforms Tsimba Itsoka into a contemplative journey featuring Mtukudzi’s signature sound. The CD’s carefully crafted lyrics, cocooned in the easy smoothness of Mtukudzi’s jazzy African sound, offer up a philosophical bent to Zimbabwe’s troubles.
Musically, the songs of Tsimba Itsoka run along in the same vein with artful arrangements featuring Mtukudzi on vocals and acoustic guitar; Clive Bobby Mutyasira on drums; Never Mpofu on bass; Clive Mono Mukundu on lead guitar, Jairos Hambahambra on keyboards; Adam Chisvo on congas and Samson Mtukudzi on saxophone. Additional vocals by Namatai Mubariki, Mary Bell, Erik Picky Kasamba and Kenny Neshamba flesh out that familiar African sound with enough swing to make the CD worth each and every precious track.
Opening the CD is the jazzy "Ungade’ We?" that sparkles with flashes of sax, keyboards, back up vocals and Mtukudzi’s rich vocals. "Chikara" charms with an mbira plucky goodness and cautions the listener with, "Footprints do not lie and if you take a close look, you can figure out the danger that lies ahead."
One can only guess Mtukudzi’s deeper meaning to the lyrics of the sassy, melodic "Hapana kuti Mbijana" as he sings, "There is no way you can get in hell a little bit. Once in hell you are in hell. There is no hell which is better than the other. Hell is hell." He takes on the issue of gambling in "Njuga" and hate in "Kuipedza." But it’s "Nzungu Imwe" with its jazzy sax thread entwined with guitar, plucky rhythms and vocals that seems to possess a more hidden meaning with lyrics that suggest, "Just one rotten nut will spoil the taste of the whole mouthful. When one person misbehaves, the entire family is disgraced."
Still living in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, it’s easy to fathom a darker message between the lines of Mtukudzi’s lyrics and imagine what lies under the happy facade of the music. Let’s just hope the message gets out.