The open book that was Tuku

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By Leroy Dzenga

Southern Times Correspondent

South African immigration officers have just lost a conversation starter.

Whenever they felt like engaging in small talk with a Zimbabwean in transit, they would ask how Oliver Mtukudzi is.

Besides flue-cured tobacco, Tuku was arguably the country`s best export.

He made the world sing along to songs whose meaning they could only guess.

Emotion transcends dialects and he embedded those with generosity in most of his compositions.

In a case of poetic injustice, on January 23 a year after he lost his dear friend, Bra Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi followed the trail to musical heaven.

For a man who had been killed many times on social media, when the news broke there was skepticism.

Usually, his management would instantly refute claims but on the day there was a deafening silence.

Questions flew over the internet, people were curious but also hoped the news was as fake as all the previous times he had been declared dead as a result of Qwerty hallucinations.

Everyone`s worst fear was confirmed, the great elephant had lost the battle against diabetes.

As expected and advocated for by many since the announcement of his death, Tuku was declared a national hero.

In Zimbabwe, being declared a national hero is the biggest individual posthumous honour one can receive.

Other great Zimbabweans who were declared national heroes are Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, former Zimbabwean Vice President and a veteran leader of the armed struggle against colonial rule under the banner of Zapu.

 

A subtly cryptic poet

 

Oliver Mtukudzi was an accomplished musical act.

His sophistry was delivered in a simplified manner, many Shona speaking Zimbabweans sang songs whose meanings they learnt years after their first listen.

As if he had foretold his own death, Tuku spent most of his time on Twitter in 2018 unpacking his lyrics.

He sang in the Korekore dialect which is a relatively complex branch of the Shona language, this made his music difficult to decipher.

But the melodies carried the music to the hearts of many even when there was partial understanding of the words which were being said.

 

A man we all knew

 

Zimbabweans have a penchant for engaging in humour even in the face of a tragedy.

After Tuku`s departure, someone remarked; “If you do not have a picture with Oliver Mtukudzi then you are not an important person in showbiz.”

Although the proclaimation was an overkill, it captured the crux of the man Tuku was.

He was the biggest artist in Zimbabwe across disciplines but was accessible.

 

Tuku would take pictures with fans every chance he got and this made him stand out.

Soon after his death, the timeline was flooded with images of people famous and unknown posting images with Samanyanga.

He was not merely a singer, a painter whose vivid images captured portraits of love, victory, death and other emotions that makes society what it is.

Even in person, his presence was powerful but rarely intimidating.

Musicians, spoke of how they tripped over each other running to the man for advice.

They cannot be blamed, for they were clever enough to understand how much of a fountain of wisdom he was.

At 66 albums, his rich discography spoke of a work ethic that sustained his place as a good example of the transformative nature of music as an art.

 

A king who lost his heir

Tuku had a son called Sam. Sam was musically gifted, he was a smoother and refined version of Oliver Mtukudzi.

Unfortunately, he died in 2010 in a car accident at 22.

Through his music, the elephant shed tears for his departed seed.

In songs like Ronga Dondo, he wore his heart on his sleeve and spoke honestly on the impact of his life.

Since Sam`s death, Tuku adopted multiple sons in the music industry.

His talent went beyond simply vocalising onto the microphone.

The muso has a talent identification ability, his Pakare Paye arts centre became a fortress where every visit would introduce one to a new undiscovered talent.

Names like Munya Mataruse, Munya Nyamarebvu, Mbeu, Mirella Maponde and many other emerging vocalists were nurtured under Tuku`s watchful eyes in Norton, about 40 kilometres west of Zimbabwe`s capital Harare where he had established an arts centre.

 

An inspiration even in death

 

Tuku`s death has inspired artists across all disciplines to produce tributary work celebrating his four decades plus in showbiz.

Zimbabwean and regional musicians have released songs and renditions in his honour.

Visual artists have also wetted their paintbrushes in celebration of a life well-lived.

Even the infamous Rasta, a funeral painter from South Africa, also insisted on a Tuku portrait even after multiple pleas by fans for him to let it slide.

As people continue to mourn, they will remember his conversations, those held in person and those held in song.

Sonically he was gifted but his greatest strength was dialogue, he spoke with a voice that represented people of different realities.

Feedback: dzengavisuals@gmail.com

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