Oliver Mtukudzi: Zimbabwe’s Unicef cavaliere live at Kirstenbosch (29 Dec)

Zimbabwean “world music” legend, guitarist Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, brings his Black Spirits Band to the splendour of the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset stage for one show only (Sunday 29 December 2013).

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/21/28.

Oliver Mtukudzi

Oliver Mtukudzi

Oliver Mtukudzi is in a car somewhere in Africa when his manager answers the call for this interview. They’re driving between shows, and that’s not an unusual thing: Tuku, as he is known to fans and followers worldwide, started performing in 1975 and has released over fifty albums and a handful of film soundtracks. Nowadays, when he’s not touring his motherland continent, he’s as often at shows across the USA and Europe, and recently returned from being inducted into America’s “Afropop Hall of Fame”. He’s just played a festival in Uganda (“It was beautiful, the crowd was very responsive and we had such a nice time together”) and is en route to a double-bill with South Africa’s own Afropop star, Ringo Madlingozi, before headlining a brace of festivals in Zimbabwe, and then returning to South Africa to play at Kirstenbosch.

   R.I.P. Mandela: Africa has no excuses anymore

We speak on Sunday 15 December, 2013, the day of the Qunu funeral service for former president Nelson Mandela. “It is a great loss, a disappointing loss,” says Tuku. “The legacy he left us, is something that the whole world has to try and emulate. If everyone could be a bit more like him, then the world would be a better place. Of course, we also have to celebrate his positive beliefs. No-one has the excuse of being naughty anymore in Africa anymore; that no longer makes sense.”

Although definitively African, Mtukudzi has seen his music gain wide popularity across the globe. He has also been honoured with awards like Italy’s Cavaliere of the Order of Merit and as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. “I’m an artist for the world, born of Zimbabwe,” he says. “When I write my songs, I don’t write them with Zimbabweans in mind – I write songs with people in mind. It’s not easy, it’s a challenge to do that, but it is who I am, and who we are: we are all part of global humanity.”

He’s eager to be returning to Cape Town after headlining the city’s inaugural Cape Town World Music Festival in 2012 and, for his Kirstenbosch set, is bringing with him his acclaimed Black Spirits band.

“I don’t know what I’m going to play, though,” he says. “I am one of the very few artists who does not write a setlist before the show. Because I don’t know the mood of the day. All I have to fight for, beforehand, is to work out the first song. Then, how the audience responds, is how I know which way to go. An artist brings the songs, but the audience makes the show out of these songs.”

“I did not mean to create my own genre or my own style, it was just how I wanted to play a song.”

– Oliver Mtukudzi on “Tuku Music”

  • What’s the best thing about being Oliver Mtukudzi?

“Being on stage and sharing, performing to somebody,” he says. “Art is not about the figures of how many people are there: if there is one person or two people, then it can be a performance. I’m lucky that people keep coming, and keep supporting my music and what I do. I hope more people come and listen and learn about Zimbabwean culture, and that I have the opportunity to meet them, and we can enjoy music together.”

  • Conversely, what’s the worst thing about being Oliver Mtukudzi?

The great man laughs, and then says, “The nervous feeling that comes before performing! Whatever performance I do, whatever size or wherever it is, I feel nervous. But I think that’s normal: if don’t feel nervous, then there’s no challenge.”

Tuku has always adopted an organic approach to music, and to his playing. “I’m a self-taught guitarist and when I started, some professional guitarists were rushing at me and saying I was learning this thing the wrong way,” he says. “The way I hung over the strings was the way I was comfortable. I did not mean to create my own genre or my own style, it was just how I wanted to play a song. It was a blessing in disguise – having this new kind of style in playing the guitar was what made my fans label it as ‘Tuku Music’, and now this is something that is recognised.”

Last year, Mtukudzi released a compilation entitled “Abi’angu (Duets Of My Time)”, a compiled history of his collaborations with artists including Kenya’s Eric Wainaina, Zimbabwe’s Willom Tight and Kudzai Sevenzo, South African stars Judith Sephuma, Siphokazi and the Jaziel Brothers, as well as the late Cape Verde songstress, Cesaria Evora. He plans a second part to this compilation of duets for 2104.

“It is very healthy for us as artists to work together,” he says. “All artists are unique, so it makes life interesting to learn from each other and to combine our efforts to make music – and to give an offering to our fans. I always enjoy collaborating and I am honestly glad to still have another full CD of these coming. It also opens up the music of Africa to new listeners.”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/21/28.

  • Oliver Mtukudzi plays the Old Mutual Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts on Sunday 29 December (gates open 4pm, concert runs 5.30 to 7pm, details SANBI.org and OldMutual.co.za/Music; tickets R85 to R120 from WebTickets.co.za and 021-799 8783/8620).

Read more: Oliver Mtukudzi says musicians “should nurture the spirit and body through tackling social issues head-on” and “interrogate societal concerns and challenges in quest for solutions” and “regard themselves as professionals – just as medical doctors – with a role to heal minds, to heal souls, to heal society.” Full report at Harare24.com.

Or read other words on music featuring Oliver Mtukudzi.

Oliver Mtukudzi by Evan Milton - Cape Argus - Good Weekend - 28 December 2013

Oliver Mtukudzi interview by Evan Milton – Cape Argus – Good Weekend – 28 December 2013

Oliver Mtukudzi

Oliver Mtukudzi

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