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Tuku: Where I come from, we use music to diffuse tension

Following breaking news of the tragic passing away of the legendary Zimbabwean and African musical giant, Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi this afternoon, I republish my account of the ‘History Tour’ of March 2013 in the UK, where Zimbabwe’s doyens of song, Tuku and Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo, performed on the same stage at The Coronet in London for the first time after many years. Rest in eternal peace, Samanyanga!

By Chofamba Sithole

Mtukudzi’s record label Gallo Records confirmed his death on Wednesday afternoon while his family was set to release a statement later on the same day. He was 66 and on the verge of releasing his 67th studio album.

It was a show that lived up to its billing. The massive crowd that thronged The Coronet Theatre in Elephant & Castle on Saturday night was a fitting testament to the legendary status of two of Zimbabwe’s greatest musicians.

And the iconic South London venue, with its expansive dance floor and state of the art stage lighting, could not have been a better setting for an historic mash up between Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi and Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo, or simply, Gandanga.

It was Samanyanga who opened the show with his acoustic guitar-laced rhythms and effusive stage work, a lanky figure executing his trademark dance to the applause of smitten fans. The song “Shamiso” went down like a mouthful of cool mahewu (a traditional malt drink) down the parched throat of a fatigued farm worker, jolting the audience into a lively dance as Tuku crooned: “Ndichakutengera pata pata/Ndichakutengera siripazi”!

Ever the cultural ambassador, Tuku took time to explain for the benefit of non-Zimbabweans present how in our culture, music was the seasoning for every situation of life. It was the balm for every ailment, and the solution to every problem.

“Where I come from we use music to diffuse tension. Even when we’re sharing problems we try and beautify the tune, to diffuse the tension. OK, let me give an example,” said the master of song as his acoustic guitar riffed into the popular classic Hear Me lord! On the song “Chii Chanetsa” Tuku danced in his typical lazy bones style, simulating picking fruit and popping it into his mouth from an imaginery masawu tree so prevalent in his home district of Mt Darwin.

Watching Tuku dance, it was impossible to not be moved to nostalgia, imagining his old pal Picky Kasamba shadowing his every move, executing their dance routine in seamless unison as they used to. It has to be said, doesn’t it, how the Tuku experience has changed so much with the arrival and departure of such memorable band members, and yet remains undiminished.

After a solid three hours of Tuku Music, there was a change of guard on stage as the pulsating, earthy sound of Chimurenga invaded The Coronet. The Blacks Unlimited band launched into the popular anthem “Joyce” as it announced Mukanya’s arrival on stage. In his trademark fedora perched atop flowing dreadlocks, Gandanga opened his account with the old time classic “Bhutsu Mutandarika”.

Tuku and Mukanya … having played in the same band together in the 70s, the two artistes went on to establish successful solo careers that catapulted them to iconic status on the African continent.

As the audience surrendered to the reverberations of the mbira, Mukanya turned from his microphone to complain bitterly to the sound engineers for what he believed was a poor sound coming through the speakers. As the altercation continued for more than a minute in full view of the fans, they began booing disapprovingly to summon Mapfumo back to his mic.

His complaint was not without justification though; one struggled to hear the riffs of the mbira and lead guitar with much clarity. But the crowd’s enthusiasm was undimmed and all they wanted was for the dreadlocked one to get on with it. And he did, albeit with a sour countenance throughout his set. As he bellowed into his mic on the song Chamunorwa, all was forgiven and the Chimurenga-starved fans lapped up Mukanya’s delivery with relish, singing along with him.

Watching the performance, one could not help marvelling at the stark difference in styles between the two artistes. Tuku on the one hand is the effusive showman, affable and nimble on his feet, while on the other Mukanya is stoic on his mic and yet exudes charismatic aura, inducing a cult-like adulation from an audience feasting on his every enchantment! Each time he does a little dance, the crowd breaks into applause as though just the very effort itself deserves their appreciation! Winky D’s dig on the old master rings hollow in this regard – this man is colossal!

Mukanya wound through his massive back catalogue, picking up classic after classic with the fans jiving along with much gusto. After an impressive three hour set, it was clear the Chimurenga-famished fans had received a generous helping. As he brought the show to a close, Mukanya took time to apologise for the poor sound and laid into the promoters for short-changing the fans. “Hameno kuti vamutora kupi uyu (the sound engineer) haazive zvaari kuita,” he drawled as the crowd chanted “Gandanga! Gandanga!”

The Leicester shows went ahead more smoothly without the sound issues that dogged Mapfumo’s set. The one damper on the entire tour, though, is that the two icons did not perform a duet or share a single moment on stage together. That would have been the icing on what turned out to be a very delicious cake!   

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