Oliver Mtukudzi in top form on 65th album

Picture credit: Antonio Muchave
Picture credit: Antonio Muchave

You know you're an icon when you release your 65th album and you're still standing.

Oliver Mtukudzi is one such rare breed.

He slips into our office dressed in all black, a grey shirt, a sliver chain, his trademark brown sling bag and trademark black poor-boy cap.

The Zimbabwean is in town to talk about Eheka! Nhai Yahwe his 65th release.

His career spans some 41 years. He tells me: "I would not call it a career because I have yet to decide what career I am going to pursue. I am only doing me. My journey since 1975 has not been easy.

"It's taken persistence, a lot of hard work and a lot of creativity, I am glad I have gotten this far."

The album's title Eheka! Nhai Yahwe is Shona for "Enjoy! My Dear Friend" and is vintage Tuku.

There is unmistakable musical depth and distinct African sounds his fans define as Tuku Music, because of its more trendy take of the mbira-powered chimurenga genre.

"Struggle (chimurenga) does not necessarily refer to a particular one. When people think about struggle in a global scale, most people think about the building of humanity. Not me. The umbrella term that covers everything I talk about in my music is self-discipline, which is needed in all spheres of life," says Mtukudzi as he explains the philosophy behind his music.

Eheka! Nhai Yahwe, Mtukudzi features South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela on Bhiza Ra Mambo and Kusateerera .

South Africa singer Maduvha Madima on Ndinecha, while the likable singer stays on as backing singer on some of the tracks.

About Masekela, Mtukudzi said: "Bra Hugh and I met a long time ago, in the early 1980s. He came to one of my shows, took his horn and jumped on stage while I was performing and started playing.

"And I wondered, who is this chap was with the trumpet, only to be told he's Hugh Masekela. I knew Hugh Masekela the name, but not the person. As it turned out, it just so happened that he and I were fans of each other."

Mtukudzi says they never recorded together, but performed together at several festivals in Africa and around the world.

"When Hugh came back home (from exile), we finally had opportunities to record together. We have recorded music together that we'll put out at a later stage.

"One day though, he came to my studio and I happened to be working on this album and he said 'I want to be on this song and that song' and I said why not?"

Explaining Kusateerera, Shona for "disobedience", Mtukudzi said: "The song is about today's life; we tend not to listen to each other. We are too busy with our own lives that we do not take time to listen.

"We always want to be heard but we never listen."

Mtukudzi's wife Daisy features on Haasi Masanga which means "it's no coincidence" as, according to Tuku, "we are here on earth not by coincidence, but by purpose".

Mtukudzi still sends socially conscious if not "woke" messages.

Bhiza Ra Mambo, which means "the horse king", is inspired by a Shona proverb.

"The Horse King is no one in particular; more than anything, it is a prayer," he says.

"The Bible teaches common sense with which to approach life. When you climb a horse, it will take you where you need to go.

"When you kneel down and pray, that is you climbing the horse, which you ride to get to your destination."

Shifting away from music, I ask Tuku whether he is happy about how much his music has spoken to issues happening in his native Zimbabwe and the entire African continent. Does he feel his music has said enough on issues that are of importance in the African arena? "Yes," he offers confidently.

"I have had my music quoted in churches, political arenas, sportsmen and women have quoted my music, families, people in general.

"This says the messages are getting through to the rightful people," he chuckles.

And about the future of African music and art, Mtukudzi painted a rather gloomy picture.

"I'm scared," he says. "Because I feel that our youngsters don't believe in who they are, but rather, they believe in the idea of who they can be.

"You see, as Africans, our history has always been bombarded with situations where we have always felt inferior, so much so that we have passed this feeling on to our children, so they too feel inferior.

"In actuality, there is no culture that is inferior to another. We're all just unique. The reason why we are here as Africans is to compliment all these other colours.

"We are not here to compete, we are here to compliment others.

"I might not be there in future and these kids will never know what will happen if they do not know who they are, they'll just be secondary.

"And that's my biggest fear. These kids must tell the world who they really are."

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