Tuku's career has spanned twenty six years and including his latest hit album TSIVO released in November 2003, he has composed forty six original albums (nearly all of them best-sellers). But it is his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe ‚Ä continually playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country - that has earned him the place in people's hearts that he holds today. In the past six years, his popularity has risen extensively in the Southern African region and together with his band The Black Spirits, he regularly ventures across borders into South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Mocambique....
Tuku's career has spanned twenty six years and including his latest hit album TSIVO released in November 2003, he has composed forty six original albums (nearly all of them best-sellers). But it is his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe ‚Ä continually playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country - that has earned him the place in people's hearts that he holds today. In the past six years, his popularity has risen extensively in the Southern African region and together with his band The Black Spirits, he regularly ventures across borders into South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Mocambique.
‚ÄėTuku‚Äô, nicknamed by his fans, was inittated into the world of professional music in 1977 when he joined the now legendary Wagon Wheels which also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Success came to them early - the first single they recorded together, Dzandimomotera, rapidly went gold. This was followed by Tuku's first album, recordedi on four-track, which was also a smash hit. Some of the musicians from the Wagon Wheels line-up worked with Tuku to create the Black Spirits, the name of the band that has performed with him throughout most of his career save for a two year period towards the end of the eighties, when he performed with the Zig Zag Band.
With Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, Tuku and the Black Spirits produced Africa, one of the most important albums of its time, and with the two hits it spawned, Zimbabwe and Mazongonyedze, the fledgling country founded one of its first great voices. From Independence to 1997, Mtukudzi released two albums every year, establishing himself as a producer, an arranger, a prolific song-writer and, with his famous big voice, a formidable lead singer.
Tuku has, in fact, been so innovative in these various fields that his music is now widely referred to as ‚ÄėTuku Music‚Äô being quite distinct from any other Zimbabwean style. This is not to say that there are no recognisable influences in his work - the traditional forms of the mbira, the South African mbaqanga style, and the popular Zimbabwean music style called jiti, all affect it deeply - but these, like katekwe, the traditional drumming patterns of his clan, the Korekore, are very much absorbed into an art which is now indubitably his own.
Yet apart from the individuality of his music, Tuku's enduring popularity is largely a result of his powers as a lyricist. Most of his songs focus on the social and economic issues that govern people's daily lives and, with an infectious sense of humour and optimism that prevails through all his music, his appeal extends to young and old alike. (refer to MOTO magazine article on lyrics ‚Ä June 2004 on ‚ÄėNews‚Äô page of Website www.tukumusic.co.zw.)
As the oldest of seven children, Oliver developed a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life due to the premature death of his father. With a desire to bring his message to a larger audience, he began to venture into the worlds of film and drama. Although he participated in several documentaries on Zimbabwean music during the 1980s, including the BBC's Under African Skies and The Soul of the Mbira, it was not until 1990 that Tuku found film success playing the lead role in JIT- the first local feature film with an all-Zimbabwean cast.
JIT went on to be released in Denmark, France and the U.K and, in 1993, he and the Black Spirits took part in Denmark's Images of Africa Festival to herald the film‚Äôs release there. The same Festival also spawned the release of a great album entitled ‚ÄúZiwere‚ÄĚ which was recorded whilst in Denmark and was the second album to be produced on CD format. The first album ever released on CD format was entitled ‚ÄúShoko‚ÄĚ which was recorded ‚Äėlive‚Äô by Piranha Music who had invited the group to perform in Germany in 1990. This album was re-released in Zimbabwe in February 2001 and is one of numerous albums from Mtukudzi‚Äôs earlier catalogue that are now available on CD format. Until the mid-nineties, most of the artist‚Äôs catalogue had hitherto only been available on vinyl or cassette and even at the end of the millennium, the majority of albums sold by most African artists in Africa are still sold on cassette format.
Tuku followed the success of JIT with the acting role of Neria's brother in Zimbabwe's second feature film, NERIA released in 1991, for which he also wrote and arranged the soundtrack. A serious drama dealing with the thorny issue of women's rights in a chauvinist world, Neria proved to be another box-office triumph in Zimbabwe and earned Oliver the coveted M-Net Best Soundtrack Award in 1992 against stiff competition, including that of the highly-acclaimed Sarafina. The NERIA album has been re-recorded for release in March 2001 and now includes two versions of the title track, one by Oliver Mtukudzi & the Black Spirits and one with Mtukudzi‚Äôs regional group ‚ÄúMAHUBE‚ÄĚ.
From film, Tuku turned his attention to drama, writing and directing the live musical production Was My Child, a project highlighting the plight of Zimbabwe's street children. For this accomplishment, he was honoured by the Zimbabwe Writers' Union.
But despite his commitments to film and theatre in the early nineties, Tuku continued to perform regularly in Zimbabwe with the Black Spirits and maintained his prodigious output of recorded music. In October 1993, the group were invited to perform at the Natal Performing Arts Festival; in February 1994 they conducted a six-week tour of Austria and Switzerland; and in December 1994 performed ‚Äėlive‚Äô on a double-bill with Lucky Dube in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, which they followed up with a number of concerts in and around Cape Town the same year.
In October 1995, Tuku was selected to represent Zimbabwe in his personal capacity at the SADC Music Festival in Harare. From the mid-nienties, he began to cross many borders, performing at such occasions as the MASA Festival in Abidjan (March 1997) where he appeared together with six of Southern Africa's best known bands. With some support from a French recording company ‚ÄúLabel Bleu‚ÄĚ, Mtukudzi made the decision to take control of every aspect of his career. He employed a consultant to revisit his Contracts, revamp his business strategies and firmly established the brand name ‚ÄúTuku Music‚ÄĚ. To crown his new found independence, he chose to record his next album at Ikwezi Studio in Johannesburg and invited his long standing friend and colleague, Steve Dyer, to produce the new album. That union produced an album entitled ‚ÄúTuku Music‚ÄĚ released in Zimbabwe by ZMC in 1998 and later the same year by Label Bleu in Europe, Connoisseur Collection in the United Kingdom and Sheer Sound in South Africa.) The quality of production from the recording and mastering to the sleeve design and artwork finally reflected the true quality of Mtukudzi‚Äôs talent and this album holds the ‚Äėbest seller‚Äô status to date. A summer tour of the United Kingdom and Europe promoted the release in 1998, culminating in two performances at WOMAD U.K.
The ‚ÄúTuku Music‚ÄĚ album is still selling so well in the new millenium that it is rapidly gaining legendary status and unquestionably marked a huge turning point in Mtukudzi‚Äôs career. In 1999, ‚ÄúTuku Music‚ÄĚ was released by Putumayo World Music in USA , Canada and numerous other territories including South America, Australia and the Far East. To celebrate its release, the group completed a really memorable tour of the United States and Canada as part of the AFRICA FETE North America 99 with Baaba Maal, Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate. In November 1999, Tuku released another chart buster album regionally and internationally entitled ‚ÄúPaivepo‚ÄĚ meaning ‚ÄėOnce Upon a Time‚Äô which like its predecessor has proved so successful, it still ranks in Zimbabwe‚Äôs Top Ten, years after its release. Also released through Putumayo World Music.
The collaborative efforts with Mtukudzi‚Äôs friend and music producer Steve Dyer, have gone well beyond the recording studio. These two great musicians are the core artists of a regional group ‚ÄúMAHUBE‚ÄĚ who first came together for their debut performance in November 1997 at the ‚ÄėOut Of Afrika‚Äô Festival in Munich. Founded by Dyer as the group‚Äôs musical director, Mahube have appeared at the Grahamstown Festival RSA, HIFA (Harare Int. Festival of the Arts), the Living Treasures Festival in Durban, South Africa, as well as enjoying a run of shows at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and at the Oude de Libertas theatre in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. They have also been to Germany twice and the group features some of the region‚Äôs greatest artists, Mahube has created a special profile and is a living example of the old adage of bringing different cultures together through music. In March 2004, MAHUBE released their second album entitled ‚ÄúQhubeka‚ÄĚ meaning ‚Äėmoving forward‚Äô through Sheer Sound, RSA. It boasts another wonderful collaboration of the region‚Äôs sounds. The group launched regionally during the months of April/May in South Africa, Swaziland, Mocambique and Botswana. They will perform in Zambia in October 2004 with a special guest, Maureen Lilanda, bringing her own Zambian sounds to expand the repertoire. Maureen recently recorded a couple of her songs in collaboration with Oliver Mtukudzi at his studio in Zimbabwe entitled Mumba and Fimbi.
Oliver and the Black Spirits celebrated the new millenium as part of South Africa‚Äôs celebrity line up which was staged in Pretoria and screened across the world by satellite. In March 2000, the Barbican Centre staged both Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited together with Oliver and the Black Spirits at a sell out concert in London. A European tour in June/July saw the group stage performances in England, Holland, France, Brussels and several appearances in Germany including the Rudolstadt Festival. Another tour of North America in August / September 2000 to promote the release of ‚ÄúPaivepo‚ÄĚ took the band to sixteen cities which included the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, the Street Carnival in San Diego and many other memorable shows. The last months of 2000 included four independent appearances in Botswana and a number of collaborations with regional artists including Ringo Madlingozi (RSA), J.K (Zambia) and Louis Mhlanga (RSA).
The release of ‚ÄúBvuma ‚Ä Tolerance‚ÄĚ in November 2000 created more than a few waves in the media. The lyrics on several of the tracks have created ongoing debate, especially from the title track ‚ÄėWasakara‚Äô which was adopted by opposition parties in Zimbabwe rather like a ‚Äėparty anthem‚Äô. The controversial publicity succeeded in making ‚ÄėBvuma - Tolerance‚Äô the biggest seller ever over the course of the first two months of release in the history of the local record company, Zimbabwe Music Corporation (ZMC). Those records have possibly been superceded by other artists, but Tuku‚Äôs catalogue has a perennial quality and sales remain steady despite the economic hardships being experienced by Zimbabweans. Tuku and the Black Spirits enjoyed their first visit to Australia to perform at the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) followed by Womadelaide in Adelaide where the group performed to an audience of some 15000 people on 18 February 2001. This was followed by a ‚Äėmega‚Äô concert at MEGAMUSIC Warehouse Joburg, South Africa which was sold out. This hugely successful show included a duet performance with Ringo (RSA) and his group for the song INTO YAM with Steve Dyer spicing up the evening with horn lines in several songs.
The following week saw a return to the Barbican Centre in London which had also sold out to capacity with approx.2,500 people attending the show.
South Africa is becoming a second home to the group. They headed the bill for two nights at the Joburg Civic Theatre at the month end of March, before moving across to Gaborone to perform at the St. Louis Jazz Festival alongside Hugh Masekela and the Kalahari Band; three performances in Zambia took place early April followed by the Moretele Park Festival near Pretoria on Easter Sunday.
The group also performed at the closing ceremony of the Harare Int. Festival of the Arts (HIFA) early May 2000. Other African destinations have included Kenya where the group attended the Zanzibar Int. Film and Music Festival early July (ZIFF) before moving to U.K. do participate again at WOMAD followed by three other shows in England at the end of the same month. In August , they performed at the Festival for AIDS Orphans in Dickinson Park, Vereeninging before returning to Zambia to participate in the International Trade Fair which is an annual event held in Ndola. They headlined the bill at the Harare International Jazz Festival (HIFA) on 22nd August. The following weekend saw their first visit to Beira in a decade. They performed to 15,000 people headlining the bill in the Ferroviari Stadium on 1st September. The group returned to Johannesburg to participate in the ARTS ALIVE FESTIVAL on 7th at Megamusic Warehouse and 9th September at JAZZ ON THE LAKE, a annual free concert staged by the City Council which brought over 20,000 music lovers together from the Gauteng area . The band almost lived in South Africa for the last three months of 2001 performing on a wide variety of platforms, predominantly Festivals and corporate functions including the NELSPRUIT Festival on 23rd September and MACUFE Festival mid-October.
Tuku launched a new album entitled VUNZHE MOTO meaning ‚Äėburning ember‚Äô at the end of February 2002 in Zimbabwe followed soon after by tours to promote its release in South Africa, UK and North America. The band also embarked on a two week tour of Botswana in March 2002 followed by an official launch at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg early April. Several different trips to South Africa earlier in the year, included the TELEFOODS CONCERT (early March), NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL (end March) in Cape Town and the AFRICAN UNION concert on 9 July. April/May/June took the group to United Kingdom followed by an extensive six week tour of North America and Canada ..... the tour began with an evening on the DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW while Festivals included the NEW ORLEANS JAZZFEST where he joined Bonnie Raitt (the famous Rhythm and Blues artist) on stage to celebrate the release of her new album ‚ÄúSilver Lining‚ÄĚ on which she has covered one of Oliver‚Äôs songs ‚ÄúHear Me Lord‚ÄĚ. Their paths crossed several times and Bonnie also graced the worldwide premiere of a his new film called SHANDA which was released on VHS format in Zimbabwe and RSA in November 2002. Shanda has also just been released on DVD format (his first) in January 2003. A live recording during the making of the film resulted in the release of a ‚Äúlive‚ÄĚ album which features ten tracks covering some golden oldies. The film produced by CROSS CULTURE is a feature documentary built around key songs that Oliver selected as being turning points in his career.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development took Oliver and the Black Spirits back to South Africa and Swaziland. He also featured in the 2002 ARTS ALIVE FESTIVAL again, with Mahube, alongside Manu Dibango and Ray Lema in early September. The band graced the launch of the refurbished Market Theatre before returning to Zimbabwe for the INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL staged in Harare on 14 September 2002.
Tuku‚Äôs 50th birthday was celebrated with thousands of jazz lovers at the JOY OF JAZZ FESTIVAL at Dickenson Park, Vereeniging on 22nd September 2002. On 28 September, the group performed at the launch of a Zimbabwean initiative called MUSIC FOR FOOD in Harare, to try and promote local incentive to raise funds to support the growing food crisis in Zim The band finally made it to celebrate Botswana‚Äôs Independence Day celebrations in Gaborone on 30 September 2002.
Oliver and the Black Spirits participated for the first time at the LONDON JAZZ FEST at the Royal Festival Hall in November 2002 and performed to packed houses in Leicester, Milton Keynes and South end. The tour began with WOMAD in Las Palmas, Canary Islands and culminated in a private function in Copenhagen with Humana People to People.
The year ended on a high note with several concerts in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Back home and in the region, the demand for the Black Spirits has grown to the point where it is impossible to satisfy demand. But it is not before time that the Southern African region has recognised Oliver Mtukudzi‚Äôs glaring talent as a prolific songwriter and composer. His many years of unwavering dedication to creating music are finally giving Tuku the recognition he deserves. He won his first KORA AWARD in 2002 in the category of ‚ÄėBest Arrangement‚Äô for the song ‚ÄúNdakuvara‚ÄĚ. He was also nominated for ‚ÄėBest Regional Artist‚Äô. In February 2003, he won the ‚ÄėBest Artist / Group‚Äô category in the National Arts Council Zimbabwe Award Ceremony (NAMA) for both 2001 and 2002 and Best Artist and Songwriter in February 2004. During the course of 2003 Tuku spent more time in the region or abroad than in Zimbabwe. The groups performances included two tours to the United Kingdom (April/June), Europe in May/June and North America and Canada for seven weeks during July/August. Since returning to the Southern African region, the group have performed in Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and all over South Africa including Robben Island, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Witbank, Mafeking, Pretoria and Johannesburg. He was also featured on the Phat Joe talk show and the Jerry Springer Celebrity Show that Springer launched in South Africa in 2003 and Mojo.
In November, 2003, the group embarked on a short UK tour beginning with a BBC World Service Aids Awareness concert, a highly prestigious event which on 7th, which was staged and broadcast ‚Äėlive‚Äô from London into 150 countries (for programme ‚Ä see website). November also saw the release of Tuku‚Äôs 46th album entitled ‚ÄėTSIVO‚Ä¶‚Ä¶revenge‚Äô in Zimbabwe, Mocambique and South Africa, which is his first semi-acoustic and was recorded in his own studio in Norton, Zimbabwe. The band also performed for the first time in Namibia at the end of November 2003 before embarking on another series of Festivals in South Africa to round up the year. ‚ÄėMahube‚Äô Tuku‚Äôs regional group co-founded with his Producer Steve Dyer, launched their second album entitled ‚ÄúQhubeka‚ÄĚ (moving forward) at the beginning of March in RSA, Swaziland and Mocambique and Botswana.
A Spring tour of North America took place in April 2004 with 3 shows in the U.K. en route. The band arrived just in time for the staging of HIFA 2004 which featured Ismael Lo from Senegal ‚Ä¶ Tuku joined Ismael on the stage and performed two of his best known songs, ‚ÄėAfrica‚Äô and ‚ÄėSofia‚Äô. The group are scheduled to do a short tour of UK with a show in Windhoek, Namibia and Joy of Jazz Intl. at the end of August 2004. Plans for 2005 are already in motion to tour USA and UK, Europe and all being well, the Sydney Festival for the first time in January.
Oliver Mtukudzi is truly one of Southern Africa's greatest musicians, writers and performers. He star is still rising and will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come!