15 April 2019

Zimbabwe: Selmor Mtukudzi - Zimbabwe's Very Own 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Moment

Photo: Selmor Mtukudzi/Facebook
Selmor Mtukudzi and Oliver Mtukudzi.

Selmor M'tukudzi and her younger sister, Sandra, are keeping alive the legacy of their late, great father, Oliver M'tukudzi, while at the same time carving out their own niche in the music industry, says Andrew Chatora.

I have been in awe, watching Oliver "Tuku" M'tukudzi's daughters, Selmor and Sandra, belt out some of the late musical icon's classic tunes. Even their dancing was spot on, and fans familiar with Tuku's "katekwe" dance moves have been left clamouring for more. Selmor could not have chosen a more apt epithet: #tukumusicliveson. The sheer talent, exuberance and stage charisma exhibited by Selmor has left me pondering how one never really knows who among a departed icon's progeny will perpetuate their legacy. Perhaps this in itself is a reminder that we should acknowledge and offer our equal and unwavering support to all our offspring, especially in the cases of split families or the dreaded "absent father" scenario.

Mark my words, Selmor M'tukudzi is here to stay. Like her father, the late, great Samanyanga, Selmor is a maestro in the making. But who is Selmor M'tukudzi and who does she think she is, going where angels fear to tread, if you would pardon the cliché? What sets her apart from the pack? Is this a case of a privileged child, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, finding an easy way out; striving for the limelight that still emanates from her late father's Midas touch? My answer to that is, far from it. Selmor the debonair is an artist, actress, performer, songstress and songwriter par excellence. It is testament to her versatility that she has also tried her hand at acting and excelled in a debut performance in the critically acclaimed film Escape (2016). I see Zimbabwe being gifted with another prima donna who is destined for great heights. Such is Selmor's prowess and stage presence that she would have made Queen's Freddy Mercury cringe in envy and pale into insignificance.

This is no mean achievement in a patriarchal society such as Zimbabwe, where women are forced to contend with societal limitations - even more so in the male-dominated music industry. In Selmor M'tukudzi's meteoric rise, we see the birth of a Zimbabwean Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. We really have a duty to laud and support performers like Selmor, Sandra et al. as they embark on their musical journey. After all, the stakes are high.

The music

In Selmor's wide repertoire of music, two tracks stand out: "Nzungu", a duet with her guitarist husband Tendai Manatsa, and her signature tune, "Nguva Yangu", which catapulted her to stardom. The latter bagged her an African Entertainment Award in New Jersey, USA in 2015. Like her late father's, Selmor's music is steeped in potent social commentary and insights for the worker and consumer. "Nzungu" takes an acerbic swipe at those unashamed employers who exploit their long-suffering employees, paying them meagre salaries, while "Nguva Yangu" is the prototypical "I need my space" break-up song. But perhaps it was Selmor and Sandra's duet, performed at the Joburg Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, in February 2019 at a tribute concert to their late father, that jolted my attention and made me sit up and take note of these two talented divas. I have not been disappointed by the duo's musical output since.

Super sister

This piece would be a travesty if I did not in equal measure acknowledge the lanky Sandra M'tukudzi, Selmor's younger sister and a class act herself as backing vocals and stage supremo on this musical journey. For die-hard Tuku fans like me, Sandra is the perfect antidote to our bouts of Tuku mania. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Samanyanga, and with her sublime katekwe dance moves and flawless vocals, we are in for a treat for the long haul. The two sisters have undoubtedly perpetuated the "dzemudanga" phenomenon, as kickstarted by Samanyanga and the late Sam M'tukudzi in the Nzou Nemhuru gigs that father and son used to perform. Go girls, you certainly rock! We are right behind you on this journey you have embarked on.

Uniting with the Black Spirits

The show at the Andy Miller Hall on 29 March 2019 is certainly worth mentioning as it showcased Selmor, Sandra and the original Black Spirits, M'tukudzi's backing band. Watching the trio of m'koma Picky Kasamba on stage, with Sandra and Selmor, was an epiphany for many a M'tukudzi fan, myself included. Picky was one of Tuku's trusted lieutenants and worked with M'tukudzi in a career spanning more than two decades. Not only was it poignant, bitter-sweet and euphoric seeing the perfected katekwe dance we thought we would never see again, but these mesmerising synchronised moves were bolstered by flawless vocals in their rendition of "Munondipasa Manyemwe". It was like witnessing the reincarnation of Samanyanga. Zimbabweans, and the rest of the world, are in for a future of sublime music with these M'tukudzi lasses. Oliver M'tukudzi's legacy is secure in a reliable pair of hands.

While the patriarchal set up of yester-year would have inhibited daughters from carrying on their father's legacy, Tuku's daughters have turned this anachronistic ideology on its head. Wedu wadadisa, mwana wenzou inzou. Loosely translated, this means "children tend to follow in their parents' footsteps". Their collaborative approach with the magnificent Picky Kasamba and some of the Black Spirits band members certainly bodes well for the future, as it will tap into the wisdom of greats like M'koma Picky, Clive Mono Mukundu, Never Mpofu et al.

The Tuku beat is alive and well

Whereas Selmor has her own brand of music, which is mellow and soulful, the distinctive Afro-Jazz Tuku beat is unmistakably present. Whatever dismissive critics may say, Selmor is here not to fill the size 14 Tuku shoes, for those can never be filled by any living mortal. Tuku was Tuku, a larger than life icon, indomitable on the Zimbabwean music scene and beyond, and thus irreplaceable. What is evident, however, is that Selmor is undeniably her own person and a great talent, out to extend that immersive Tuku brand of music, while concurrently carving out her own distinct niche with that beautiful gem of a voice. The Tuku duo are certainly creating new music as they ride the momentum. Trailblazers in the offing, we salute you.

Author's Bio:

Andrew Chatora teaches English, Media and Sociology at The Bicester School in Oxfordshire, England, where he manages the Media Department. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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