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Redemption Songs

music OliverMPressOliver Mtukudzi honors the Zimbabwean heritage with sounds of struggle, hope and celebration

According to Oliver Mtukudzi (pronounced tu-ku-zee), “The power of art is to communicate figuratively and be understood universally.” That message is a key component in his distinctive Afro-pop/World music amalgam, often referred to as “Tuku music.”

A musical icon in his native Zimbabwe, Mtukudzi will bring elements of the African musical tradition, the stories of his people, and songs from his 57-album repertoire to Moe’s Alley this Friday.

“In the 1970s, I was one of the few who were able to have access to a secondary education,” says Mtukudzi. “Well, after I graduated I still couldn’t find work because I was black (due to the Rhodesian colonial regime). So I began to play my guitar more. I had been singing and writing music since I was 4 and a half years old.”

In 1973, Mtukudzi formed the Wagon Wheels alongside famed Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo. But two years later, Mtukudzi embarked on his solo musical career with the help of a backing band made up of young musicians from the neighboring ghettoes of Harare, Zimbabwe, whom he named the Black Spirits.

Currently in the studio recording their next album, Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits have continued their time-honored tradition of incorporating South African instruments into their sound—including mbira, mbaqanga, jit and korekore drumming. By using traditional instruments, the band is able to create a new wave of African folk that pays tribute to its heritage. “The youth of Africa and the world must come to know that our instruments are not inferior,” he says. “The drum set, the guitar and banjo … so many instruments that are used today come straight from Africa.”

Despite pressure to switch from his Zimbabwean language of Shona to English, Mtukudzi has recorded all of his albums in his native tongue.

“I wasn’t afraid of anyone,” he says. “The beauty of Shona is all of its rich idioms and metaphor … and the beauty of art is that you can use the power of language to create meaning without necessarily giving it away. So, I used the beauty of Shona to communicate in my own way, and people got the message.”

Within his lyrics, Mtukudzi tackles important issues like child homelessness—which he actually wrote and directed a musical about—female empowerment, and HIV/AIDS.

Though his music was born in a time of apartheid and war, out of the ashes of oppression, Mtukudzi’s hopeful lyrics and message of a better tomorrow united people.

“Self-discipline has always been the backbone of my message and music,” he says. “It will take you anywhere. It also eliminates any conflict in the relationship that musicians find with their music.”


Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits play at 9 p.m. Friday, July 20 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18/adv, $20/door. For more information, call 479-1854.

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