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Musician Oliver Mtukudzi Cultivates Fans Beyond Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe's declining economy has meant trouble for some of the country's musicians. Consumers have less money to pay to go to concerts or buy CD's. But a few musicians, like Oliver Mtukudzi, are able to thrive with a sizeable audience outside Zimbabwe. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Unathi Kondile in Cape Town, South Africa, recently spoke to the Zimbabwean performer.

With rising inflation and the increasing cost of basic commodities, many music fans have to decide whether they should use their money to buy a concert ticket – or food. Musician Oliver Mtukudzi says he's felt the pinch:

"It's not like as an artist you live in your own world. You are living under the same conditions as everybody – every Zimbabwean. So it affects me, yes -- economically you'll find that it's tough. There's no fuel. Fans can't come to you. At times you can't even go and perform because you don't have fuel. You know?"

On the other hand, Mtudkudzi has plenty of fans spread across the continent.

He describes himself not as a Zimbabwean, but as an African born in Zimbabwe. He's still there today, living in Norton, which is 45 kilometers from Harare. He started making music at a very early age, with his first recording in 1975. So far he's recorded nearly 60 albums:

"I started off writing music for choirs until I bought my first guitar and I recorded a duet with my sister. That's how I started. It was tough, because there was no equipment, there were no facilities. And places to perform – there were very few. Anyway an artist's life is not easy at all," he says.

In 1977, he started out in a group called The Wagon Wheels where he performed with one of Zimbabwe's greatest liberation struggle superstars - Thomas Mapfumo. Mtukudzi adopted Mapfumo's 1970's liberation struggle or Chimurenga style which was about political consciousness during white minority rule in Zimbabwe.

Mtukudzi later formed his own band, the Black Spirits, who have backed him throughout his career. He developed his own style known as Tuku Music because of it's distinctive sound and ability to incorporate the Zimbabwe jit - a rhythmic, electronic guitar-driven pop music -- and the mbira – sometimes called the "thumb piano."

Mtukudzi's latest album is titled Tsimba Itsoka, which means "There is No Footprint Without the Foot." His comment on the album, "The message behind it is, we leave prints as we live. We leave something for people to emulate or disregard as we move on in our lives. "

He has performed in a number of countries in Africa and in Europe and has done some 22 concerts in the United States. The reception from audiences has always been good – in fact; he calls them "surprisingly excellent" considering the fact that he performs most of his songs in Shona and Ndebele, "It brings originality from me. You go out there, people want to listen to you and they know you are Zimbabwean – so they want to listen to Zimbabwean music. And the best way to do that is through language."

Mtudkudzi also recently launched a DVD that features highlights of his musical career. It's called Wonai – which means "You Should See.

Mtukudzi recently opened the doors to his Pakare Paye Arts Center in Zimbabwe. Admission is free, in the hopes that the center will help young artists hone their skills. The school includes courses in dance, music, drama, and poetry.


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