By Nigel Nyamutumbu
I had never really appreciated how colossal the late national hero, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, was on the global stage.
To me, Sekuru (Uncle) Tuku — as we affectionately called him — was just the humble and humorous uncle with whom every moment we shared was punctuated with bouts of laughter.
Of course, I knew he was famous. I knew he wasn’t as accessible at those big shows as much as we would have quality time at home. He was definitely a giant, a great entertainer who would send thousands into frenzy. The thousands of mourners that attended his funeral all had a personal Tuku story to tell.
Stories about how they once missed a flight because of the level of joy at Tuku’s shows. Some told of how his music impacted their lives during difficult periods, while others had basic stories of how they had met the man looking so ordinary and doing normal shopping at the local grocery stores.
Therefore, in a way, I always knew he was much more revered than what we commonly assumed. It had to take two distinct occasions for me to realise that indeed, Samanyanga was/is a global icon that by far outweighed him as a person and as a musician. The first of these “damascene” moments happened when the music
superstar was still alive.
I had been invited to participate at an international peace-building conference in Cambodia. As was the case whenever it was my first time in any country, I would give Sekuru Tuku a call to try and establish if he had connections in those countries. Being someone that was well-travelled, he always linked me up with his friends and colleagues that I would reach out to and they would assist in one way or the other in making the stay comfortable.
But it was not the case with Cambodia. In his usual husky voice, he quipped: “Cambodia ndeipi iyi? (Where is Cambodia?” I also did not have an idea, to which we both had our usual hearty laughter. What, however, then struck me while in Cambodia was a conversation I had with someone in a bar. His name was Andrew, or something like that, who in typical bar talk had asked me where I was from. My response was as shocking to him, much as his reaction was to me!
“Zimbabwe, oh you are from Zimbabwe?” he asked. For a moment I thought he was going to talk about politics and politicians, particularly former president Robert Mugabe who, for both right and wrong reasons, is one character that people talk about when my beloved country is the topic of discussion. “I know Zimbabwe, the country of Oliver Mtukudzi!”
I could not believe my ears. This is one country where my well-travelled uncle could not link me up with anyone physically, but his music still connected me with someone I went on to network and enjoy an interesting cultural exchange with. I remember when I shared that story with him, Samanyanga always used to have one response whenever we would share such conversations, “Wakamuudza here kuti uri muzukuru waMtukudzi? (Did you tell that person that you are my nephew?”)
The second occasion was after the legend had been laid to rest.
Yes, I had seen how the world had mourned him and how he had been recognised at international fora, including at the Oscars. Zimbabwe had conferred him with national hero status, a first for a musician, and he had been given a burial befitting his status.
But I was particularly moved when I visited Accra, Ghana, a country that has such a rich musical culture and generally part of what is considered to be the hub of African music alongside other West African countries. Unlike in some African countries, their local music has created such hegemony that it has become their lifestyle. In fact, it’s not just their music, but also food, wherein most of their meals are dominated by their traditional foods. As such, it is difficult for any foreign artiste to penetrate that market, let alone compete.
It was in one of the streets of Accra, in the ghetto streets, that I again realised how big Samanyanga was. I was at a typical market where there was a hive of activity from those vending tomatoes to those that sold clothing materials for what we call “African attire”, while others sold beauty products. At one of the corners in the market was a middle-aged man who was running a barber shop. This man caught my eye for at least two reasons. Firstly, he could barely speak fluent English and the portrait of his shop had the image of Oliver Mtukudzi.
I could not believe my eyes. How on earth could this barber with a lot of musical icons from his own country and region connect with Oliver Mtukudzi? This was not Bob Marley or any such icon! This was one of our own, born and bred in Zimbabwe and in our ghettos as he sang.
Nzou’s vision that he shared time and again with me and anyone that cared to listen began to make so much more sense. His name, which obviously followed his music, had by far outgrown him and certainly would and should outlive him! By setting up the Pakare Paye Arts Centre, Nzou did not establish a building, but a vision.
A vision that any journalist that interviewed him, appreciates as he time and again articulated where he wanted to see the centre. It is not your ordinary bar and restaurant. After all, Nzou was never really a fan of alcohol and those that take intoxicants.
The centre was built to preserve our Zimbabwean and African culture. To inspire young artistes that we can create our own music and art yet still make a global impact. The vision is all-encompassing and seeks to provide orphans, persons with disabilities and anyone with any life lesson to offer a platform to do so through art. It is a portal for people to express themselves in celebrating our diversity and culture.
For a person of Nzou’s stature, such a vision is certainly not just for the local Norton population neither is it restricted to Zimbabwe, but is certainly international. It is actually unfortunate that Nzou did not live to witness one of the plans he wanted to implement. I will for this instalment share one of the plans that he shared with me while in hospital, hoping to recover.
Sekuru Tuku wanted to hold a show at Pakare Paye for people in music living with albinism. He said he had already identified the group and was going to do a few tracks with them. To inspire this group of musicians, Nzou was going to bring fellow music legend Salif Keita, who lives with albinism, to be the guest of honour.
These and many such plans were really meant to transform the arts and cultural sector, yes for the benefit of Tuku Music, but more for our heritage.
That, in a nutshell, was Nzou’s vision. The only way government can really honour their national hero is by supporting the vision of Pakare Paye. The family must be united and speak with one voice to sustain this vision to posterity.
Fellow artistes, most of who were assisted by Nzou in one way or another, should ensure that they help other emerging talents and Pakare Paye continues to be the breeding ground of Zimbabwean musicians and artistes.
United Nations agencies, the international community and corporations also have a role to play in supporting such a worthwhile vision. The media must amplify this vision to the best of their capabilities. Tuku fans and the general citizenry can also help in sustaining this vision and ensure that such rich legacy lives on, if not for Nzou, then for the country — Zimbabwe and the multitudes of people that were touched by Tuku’s music, including that guy in Cambodia and the barber in Ghana.
Nigel Nyamutumbu is a media development practitioner, currently serving as the programmes manager for the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ). He is Oliver Mtukudzi’s nephew and writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on +263 772 501 557 or firstname.lastname@example.org