Songs that defined Oliver Mtukudzi’s incredible career

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Zimbabwe –On 23 January, Zimbabwean legend Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi passed away. Tuku, whose music cut across cultures and generations, was known for his humble and soft demeanour, and an illustrious career that spanned more than four decades.

After his death, many of his fans and music collaborators shared memorable photographs in which they pose with the artist. This shows that Tuku was indeed a man of the people.  

But the greatest connection fans made with Tuku was through his music, starting with his 1978 debut solo album Ndipeiwo Zano (Give Me an Idea), which was re-released in 2000 due to its iconic status. This strong connection to his music continued until his last offering Han’a (Concern) released last year.

There is no Oliver Mtukudzi without the ‘Tuku Music’ brand – an amalgamation of jazz and jiti and sung in Shona, Ndebele and English – which was key in garnering the artist global fame. In the past 42 years, Tuku wrote unforgettable songs that made him one of the biggest names out of Africa, and arguably the biggest in his home country. He played abroad to millions of fans who will continue the Tuku legacy by playing his music to future generations for many years to come.

As the world continues to mourn Tuku, Music In Africa has compiled a playlist of songs that defined his career.

‘Ndipeiwo Zano’ (1978)

‘Ndipeiwo Zano’ is the title track off Tuku’s first solo album. The song is a revolutionary anthem that was released during the Zimbabwe War of Liberation.

‘Psss Psss Hallo!’ (1990)

‘Psss Psss Hallo!’ is among Tuku’s songs that were played on repeat in Zimbabwe’s townships. In the song, Tuku shames men who have the tendency to catcall women in the street. Sung in Shona and English, the song was taken off Tuku’s 21st album release of the same name. The dance moves in the song’s video have often been compared to those of Michael Jackson’s synchronised choreography in ‘Smooth Criminal’.

‘Neria’ (1993)

‘Neria’ was the official soundtrack of the eponymous film. The song consoles a widow named Neria who has lost her husband. The single, which is off the album of the same name, has become synonymous with the challenges faced by Zimbabwean widows, such as social ostracism and inheritance disputes. Last year, Tuku featured South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the recreation of the world-famous masterpiece.

‘Street Kid’ (1995)

Tuku wanted to bring to the fore Zimbabwe’s many homeless children. A social commentary par excellence, ‘Street Kid’ bemoans children eating out of bins and exposes the dire economic situation in 1990s Zimbabwe. The song is off the Was My Child album.

‘Todii’ (1999)

‘Todii’ is an HIV/AIDS awareness song taken off the Tuku Music album. In the song, Tuku laments the death toll caused by the disease. The song earned him a UNICEF goodwill ambassadorship. It is sung in Shona, Ndebele and English and has been played as part of big HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and gatherings in Zimbabwe and abroad.

‘Dzoka Uyamwe’ (1999)

‘Dzoka Uyamwe’ is about a son who longs for his roots, while his mother, too, beckons him to return home. This song can also interpreted along political and socio-economic lines: it speaks of the conflict between the harsh urban life at the turn of the millennium and the sanctuary and simplicity in rural Zimbabwe. The track is off the Tuku Music album.

‘Seiko Mwari’ (2000) 

‘Seiko Mwari’ means ‘Why God?’ Here Tuku asks God to tell him where their relationship stands. The emotional song makes references to the biblical stories of Job and Mary. The song is off the Paivepo album and is a gospel track sometimes used by Zimbabweans for consolation after losing a loved one.  

‘Wasakara’ (2001)

Taken off the Bvuma/Tolerance album, ‘Wasakara’ loosely translates to ‘you are old’. It was perceived as a political song intended for then president Robert Mugabe. The song was denied airplay by Mugabe’s regime, which knew all too well that it could cause an uprising. ‘Wasakara’ is among the many songs Mugabe censored to silence musicians whose music opposed his leadership style.

‘Murimi Munhu’ (2001)

In ‘Murimi Munhu’, Tuku praises farmers for playing a crucial role in supporting humanity. The song is off Bvuma (2002)

‘Wagona Fani’ (2003)

‘Wagona Fani’ is a love song that cannot be omitted from this list. It is a conversation between a husband and wife who appreciate each other’s efforts. It is the fifth track on the Tsivo (Revenge) album. 

‘Tozeza Baba’ (2006)

‘Tozeza Baba’, meaning ‘we’re afraid of father’, is a song about a drunk, wife-beating husband. The song is from Tuku’s album Wonai and addresses gender violence. The song also strikes a political chord depending on what listeners read into it. It could very well speak of a political leader who abuses the weak and vulnerable. Tuku’s genius is that he never disclosed his political views in public, although he did have leanings towards Zimbabwe’s opposition.

‘Into Yami’ (2006) – Ringo Madlingozi (South Africa) ft. Oliver Mtukudzi

‘Into Yami’ is a love song that became a huge hit in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is sung in Xhosa and Shona and is one of the most successful collaborations between artists from the two neighbouring countries.

‘Panorwadza Moyo’ (2016) – Winky D ft. Oliver Mtukudzi

This collaboration between the two artists stirred speculation due to its lyrical content. Without giving explicit answers, both musicians ask God why there are so many deaths, although many say ‘Panorwadza Moyo’ alludes to HIV/AIDS. They also bemoan the number of Zimbabwean orphans. Produced by Oskid, the song features Tuku on guitar and was written by Winky D. Tuku’s collabo with Winky D is an example of the late artist’s ability to work with younger artists.

‘Tapera’ (2017) – Hugh Masekela (South Africa) ft. Oliver Mtukudzi

‘Tapera’ was recorded in Harare and is a conversation between the two late musicians. It featured on Masekela’s last offering No Borders. The South African jazz maestro died exactly a year before his dear friend on 23 January.

‘Usambotya’ (2018) – Tocky Vibes ft. Oliver Mtukudzi

Tocky Vibes, like WInky D, is a younger artist who was fortunate to collaborate with Tuku. On ‘Usambotya’, Tuku submits himself to Tocky’s rhythmic singing, a reflection of the veteran’s propensity to adapt to the unique sound of the artists he worked with. The song is off Tocky Vibes’ Rori album and encourages listeners to soldier on and have faith. The song’s title loosely translates to ‘don’t be afraid’. Tocky Vibes hasn’t been afraid lately, especially with the release of ‘Zvitori Nani’, a protest song he recently spoke to Music In Africa about.

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