Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Correspondent
ZIMBABWE has had its fair share of feuds between famous musicians, but none have been the object of speculation for such a long time like the rumoured bad blood between Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi.
For years fans and observers have speculated on this cold war, which once in a while heats up whenever either of the two stars opens their mouth and dares to talk about the other.
Usually Mapfumo, famously foul tempered godfather of Chimurenga music, has been the aggressor.
Mukanya’s statements have for the most part always caught Mtukudzi on the back foot and at various times he has chosen a diplomatic approach when dealing with a fellow elder statesman in the music business.
“I am still the same Oliver these people didn’t want to talk about. I will always remain the same whether they continue talking about me or not. They have a lot to say about me but I have nothing to say about them. Let them continue talking,” Tuku told Kenyan publication, The Star, after another particularly brutal attack from Mukanya.
Despite such protestations, Mapfumo has never pulled his punches when talking about the man who has been pitted against him throughout the years.
“He (Mtukudzi) is two-faced. You understand what I am trying to say? He doesn’t come out in the open and say where he stands,” Mukanya was quoted as saying during a 2009 interview.
Although they once toured together in the 70s, Mukanya has never taken too kindly to being compared to his former comrade. The story of how Mapfumo listed none other than himself as number one to four when asked who the top five Zimbabwean musicians are has become a well talked about fable in Zimbabwean music lore.
It was only at number five that Mukanya had reportedly listed Mtukudzi, a musician he referred to as “mukomana weku kosora kosora”.
As hilarious as the story sounds, it perhaps reveals the way in which the maverick Chimurenga guru views his rival.
Despite all this it is still hard to believe that the two genuinely do not see eye to eye. Is there a genuine feud between the two musicians? Or is their “beef” a made up story by Zimbabwean music lovers desperate to see the two titans at each other’s throats?
What exactly is the source of the beef between the two, if indeed it does exist?
The “battle” between the two perhaps boils down to their differences in character, something that shows itself even in their music.
Mapfumo has always been the more militant. He has a smoking gun and never hesitates to shoot from the hip. His music has often reflected this. On the other hand, Tuku has always shared his message in a way that is not so obvious, making songs that mean different things to different people. In that way he is the master of metaphor, leaving listeners with the option of deciding what he means exactly with some of his lyrics.
Music scholar Banning Eyre, who shadowed Mapfumo for decades before penning a book, Lion Songs, about the man and his music, revealed that Mapfumo had always been an individual who did not shy away from speaking openly about how he felt.
“Thomas is his own man. He will certainly accept ideas from his musicians, but he knows what he wants, and is just as likely to veto suggestions. By nature, he is upbeat and positive, and loves to enjoy a joke. That said, he can be moody, and he doesn’t hide his feelings, so if something is bothering him, you’re apt to know it. The best way to be with Thomas is to go with what he wants to do,” Eyre said.
His numerous outbursts against Tuku may therefore be down to the fact that he has never been afraid to say out his displeasure about a fellow musician.
In a way Tuku and Mukanya are polar opposites.
While Tuku is a diplomat who never utters a bad word about a fellow artiste, Mukanya is always ready to charge and attack should he feel displeased.
With this in mind, some of his statements against Tuku in the past have seemed to carry a hint of jealousy.
However, the man himself has disputed that he hates Mtukudzi as some have alleged in the past.
“Oliver is a very good friend of mine; we have come very far and I miss him a lot,” Mukanya told the media earlier this year.
His statement tallies with Eyre’s observation that Mapfumo had a lot of influence on the direction that Tuku’s music took in his early years as a musician.
“In the case of Oliver, Thomas had an early impact. He was the person who encouraged Oliver to sing in Shona, write his own songs and take on cultural issues. They toured together briefly in about 1976, with a group called Wagon Wheels. This had a big impact on Oliver early on,” Eyre said.
Music is a game of rivalries, with artistes pitted against each other even though they might not be the sworn enemies fans think they are. Hence hostilities might exist only in the minds of fans.
In the 90s, however, some believe that the Tuku-Mukanya feud went beyond words and actually spilled into the studio.
“The beef may be down to speculation. However, there was a time when Tuku sang Chirimupoto and Mapfumo reportedly made snide comments about the song. He then went on to make his own nursery rhyme called Shiri Yakangwara.
“The rivalry was perhaps down to them being the two major stars of the era,” said music scholar Andrew Kudita.
Whether real or imagined, it goes without saying that the Tuku-Mukanya feud has captivated Zimbabweans for decades and will likely fuel debate for years to come.