Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi was born September 22, 1952 in Highfield, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Oliver’s professional music career spanned more than thirty years and produced over 40 original albums most of them best sellers in his native Zimbabwe. But it was his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe – playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country that earned him the respect and admiration of the people in Zimbabwe.
Tuku burst into the world of music in 1977 when he joined the now legendary Wagon Wheels which also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Success came to them early – the first single they recorded together “Dzandimomotera” rapidly went gold and was followed by Tuku’s first solo album (recorded on four tracks) which was also a smash hit. It was with a number of the musicians from the Wagon Wheels line-up that Oliver formed the Black Spirits the band that backed him throughout his career.
After Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, Oliver and the Black Spirits produced “Africa” one of the most important albums of its time and with the two hits it generated, ‘Zimbabwe’ and ‘Mazongonyedze’ the fledgling country found one of its first great voices.
Since Independence, Oliver released two albums every year, establishing himself as a producer/arranger a prolific songwriter and a formidable lead singer. Tuku was so innovative in these various fields that his distinctive music style is now widely described as “Tuku Music”. This is not to suggest that there are no recognizable influences in his work.
The traditional forms of mbira, the South African mbaqanga and the popular jit styles all affected it deeply – but these like katekwe, the traditional drumming patterns of his clan the Korekore were very much absorbed into a music form indubitably his own.
Apart from the individuality of his music Tuku’s enduring popularity largely resulted from his powers as a lyricist. Most of his songs focused on the social and economic issues that govern people’s daily lives. His infectious sense of optimism that pervaded all his music appealed to young and old alike.
His commitment to fighting the AIDs pandemic through his open approach to the topic in his songs contributed greatly to restoring a sense of care and responsibility within the wider community. As the oldest of seven children Oliver developed a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life due to the premature death of his father.
Oliver’s desire to bring his message to a wider audience led him to venture into the worlds of film and stage. Although he participated in several documentaries on Zimbabwean music during the 1980s including the BBC’s Under African Skies and The Soul of the Mbira it was not until 199 that Tuku found film success with a featured role in the internationally heralded JIT – the first local feature film with an all Zimbabwean cast.
Tuku followed the success of JIT with the role of the title character’s brother in Zimbabwe’s second feature film Neria for which he also wrote and arranged the soundtrack. A serious drama dealing with the thorny issue of woman’s rights in a chauvinist world, Neria proved to be another box-office triumph in Zimbabwe and earned Oliver the coveted M-Net Best Soundtrack Award in 1992 against stiff competition, including that of the highly acclaimed Sarafina.
From film, Tuku turned his attention to the stage writing and directing the live musical-drama Was my Child a project highlighting the plight of Zimbabwe’s street children. For this accomplishment the Zimbabwe Writers’ Union honored him.
Oliver Mtukudzi and his band The Black Spirits toured North America in 1999 as part of Africa Fete appearing at many of the premier festivals and stages across the continent.
In April of 2005 Tuku released Nhava (HUCD 312) his debut album on Heads Up International. Mtukudzi said the album – named after the Zimbabwean word for “carrying bag” – is a satchel filled with nuggets of advice encouragement and wisdom for travelers on the journey of life as they make their way through an often-perilous world.
“Every song on this album has something to teach about life something to remind you and encourage you about what is important in life ,“ said Mtukudzi who built a vast body of work by skillfully balancing compelling African rhythms and accessible melodies to address social issues relevant to not only his native Zimbabwe but to people and cultures everywhere. “All of these ideas are universal. They are the same for every human being regardless of their culture or their environment.”
Oliver Mtukudzi died on January 23, 2019 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Tuku Music (Putumayo 152 1999)
Paivepo (Putumayo 168 2000)
Neria (Sheer Sound 2001)
Vhunze Moto (Putumayo 199 2002)
Bvuma / Tolerance (Sheer Sound 2002)
Shoko (Gallo Records 2002)
Greatest Hits the Tuku Years (Sheer Sound 2003)
Shanda (Alula Records 2003)
Oliver Mtukudzi Collection (Putumayo 214 2003)
Nhava (Heads Up International HUCD 312 2005)
Wonai (Sheer Sound 2006)
Tsimba Itsoka (Heads Up International 2007)
Dairai (Believe) (2008)
Rudaviro (Tuku Music 2010)
Kutsi Kwemoyo (2010)