Legendary musician Dr Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi, who died on January 23, 2019 in Harare and was declared national hero, will be remembered foremost as a great African cultural leader and artist whose songs were but well-composed poems with powerful messages seeping out of thoughtful metaphor.
One whose trademark throaty, melodious voice which like a river snaked far beyond the boundaries, touching many hearts, comforting and awakening them to new truths about life and society, was and remains our own Bob Marley, an ally to our meditation in matters of African identity or values.
Writing about Tuku music in a literature column inevitably unveils how the two arts are somehow inspired by the same mystery of their raw material -- words. And nothing is more close to the mystery of words than poetry. In music, they enrich it with instrumentals, in literature they strum on their own different type of instruments. All the same, they exchange inspirations. There are writers who use music as a writing aid as Dorothea Brande once said in her book "Becoming a Writer" and there are musicians who use literary techniques in their song-writing.
The multi-award winner proudly sang in Shona, his mother language. Tuku's songs were rich in figurative language.
He seriously took himself as the nyanduri, a Shona poet, and also knew there is something called metaphor which excellently conveys emotion in a less direct form and still penetrate the heart or mind of the listener (or reader).
"Art is the ability to communicate metaphor and still be heard universally" is one of his sayings found in the biographical book "Tuku Backstage" written by the icon's former publicist Shepherd Mutamba.
The book serves well to remind the world that Tuku was but a human being, with personal feelings, sometimes even erroneous feelings or moments of strange behaviour, and yet he was extraordinarily gifted.
There are lessons to learn from the legend's life which is captured in this resourceful book.
With his philosophical metaphor, he reached far and wide, and deeper. One surely is forced to spare a minute or more to reflect on life after listening to Tuku's song "Musoro Kutema" which inspires one to look for the real source of the problem instead of pretending and wasting resources.
His other song "Mombe Ndonda" indirectly advises a person not to be lazy, not to fear life challenges or responsibilities.
When he produced "Wasakara" there was hype that the Doctor was dissing an individual and yet all this limited interpretation of the song was caused by the feature of allusion inherent in it. The great songwriting talent of Tuku's generation is slowly diminishing while Zimbabwe watches the ghetto youths forsake principles of ubuntu, for surely our society cannot develop culturally with the plain art being churned out of the ghetto studios.
The African image he embodied is quite the opposite of the new crop of artists who have embroiled themselves in the garb of foreign culture, sometimes singing disgraceful songs.
When the youths are not insulting each other or self-idolizing in song, they are singing about fashion or sensual pleasure, and hardly a single concrete social issue. Many of them are now openly singing sex and money, a pastime for them who lack talent.
The young artists must by now have learnt that music or literature is not a mill of 'foul' but a medium for positive change in society.
That Tuku has declared a national hero is truly a great honour to the whole arts industry in Zimbabwe and a fulfilment of many people's deepest wish for the icon. May his soul rest in peace.