Oliver Mtukudzi wants you to dance at Joburg gig

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Ano Shumba

At 65, Zimbabwean veteran musician and one of Africa's most celebrated music icons Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi is still commanding stages and a huge following across the continent. The adage "wine tastes better with age" bests describes Mtukudzi, whose music has not lost its power while luring new fans and top gigs in Africa and around the world.

Mtukudzi, who sings mostly in Shona, has proved that language is not a barrier when it comes to garnering a fan base outside Zimbabwe. Mtukudzi's journey has been long. His career became a massive success following the 1977 release of 'Dzandimomotera', a song by the Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured the exiled-until-recently veteran chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo.

Mtukudzi's career gained even more momentum with his 1978 solo album ‘Ndipeiwo Zano’ (Give Me Advice), which was re-released in 2000, earning him a household name in Zimbabwe and abroad. As an artists who earned superstar status before independence in 1980, Mtukudzi used his music to celebrate Zimbabwean culture by fusing elements of various musical traditions and attaching a distinctive style to his music, which is now known as 'Tuku Music'.

Tuku is in Johannesburg, South Africa, this Saturday where he will perform songs from his recently released 67th album ‘Hany’ga’ (Concern) at the Lyric Theatre. As it currently stands, Tuku has more albums than years under his belt.

We spoke briefly to the artist ahead of his performance.

Music In Africa (MIA): What are your expectations from the event?

Oliver Mtukudzi (OM): Expect the best. You know, I'm trying to bring the best songs and I know the audience will like the songs. I will also bring a full band to the event. People should bring their best too; they should not just watch and stand but dance to the music.

MIA: You are 65 years old and still singing. What’s the secret to your energetic performances?

OM: Ah! There is no secret at all, it’s just a passion of what I do. I try to give my best, it’s all I do. I rehearse three hours a week.

MIA: Thomas Mapfumo was in Zimbabwe recently. How did you feel about his return and sharing the stage with him?

OM: It was more than 14 years before he returned and performed back home. Well, it was more like a celebration.

MIA: Are there artists who come to seek your advice?

OM: Oh yes, lots of them. They do come to seek advice and I give them the best. It doesn’t mean I'm a genius but I always check, you know, my mistakes and they learn from that.   

MIA: How is your new album doing on the market?

OM: It’s doing excellent and people are singing along to some of the songs. I will perform some of the songs from the new album at the event.

MIA: Is this your last album?

OM: Well, I can’t run away from myself, I will keep on releasing more music. As long as there are people, there is always something to sing and talk about.

MIA: Since you were elected as a board member of the National Council of Zimbabwe, what has your input been to make sure that the arts sector in the country is thriving?

OM: A board is made of a number of people. You cannot consult on your own but you share your own experiences. I personally have been in the industry for more than 40 years, so I talk about how the industry is supposed to be. I also talk about where we can get help from, such as the government. If things are beyond our control, we try to get help from others. So it’s about trying to pave a way, but you can’t create a way without the help from the government, which creates the rules.

MIA: How does it feel performing on foreign soil?

OM: I don’t feel like a foreigner if I am performing in South Africa, or any other African country, because I am an African. As long as I am anywhere in Africa, I am home [laughs]. – Music In Africa

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