Bringing life and hope to Zimbabwe through song

September 4, 2012

The purpose of song is to give hope to the people, Afro-jazz musician Oliver Mtukudzi says. Perhaps this is especially true of the music legend’s native Zimbabwe.

During Mtukudzi’s lifetime, Zimbabweans have struggled through a long war for independence from British and minority white rule, a vicious AIDS epidemic, explosive bouts of political violence, hyperinflation, hunger and a cholera crisis.

In a career spanning 30 years or so, Mtukudzi’s gift for addressing the most taboo of subjects through his music and lyrics has led him to being described as a moral guardian, a Shona prophet, a national hero.

“I think as artists – be it musicians, sculptors, dancers, poets, actors and so on – our purpose is to give life and hope to the people,” Mtukudzi told us in a recent interview.

“People never acquire hope if there’s no art, so it’s our duty to do that. That’s what we’re born for.”

One of Mtukudzi’s most famous songs, “Tapera (We are Decimated)” targets men and questions their sexual behaviour. It was released in the early 2000s as the HIV prevalence rate was hitting its peak of around 24 percent of Zimbabwe’s adult population.

“I wrote that song when we in Zimbabwe were struggling to defeat the stigma attached to the deadly disease of AIDS,” Mtukudzi recalled.

Another Mtukudzi classic, “Todii”, asks Zimbabweans what they shall do to combat AIDS. Sung in a mixture of Shona and English, the song includes the lines: “How painful it is to look after someone you know is going to die/ When they have AIDS”.

Although Zimbabwe has been successful in almost halving its HIV prevalence rate, Tuku as he is known back home cautioned against complacency.

“We need to let people understand that it doesn’t take an organisation or a government, it takes you (to tackle it),” he said. “It starts with you. What are you doing? Are you safe? And if you’re (HIV) positive, are you keeping it to yourself?”

For the full interview, click here

Zimbabwean musician: Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi from Thomson Reuters Foundation on Vimeo.

Photo caption: Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi plays his guitar in London, August 15, 2012. Photo courtesy of David Mbiyu/sixoone MEDIA


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