The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
ALMOST half-a-year has passed since the death of Afro Jazz titan Oliver Mtukudzi and, over the last few weeks at least, the hostilities within his family seem to have eased.
If the music legend’s family is still at each other’s throats, it seems like they have taken the fight behind the scenes. During this ceasefire, Selmor Mtukudzi has continued to blossom, proving perhaps that the Tuku Musik Empire will be ably led by a queen and not a king.
However, the end of the hostilities in the Mtukudzi household also offers music lovers around the country time to introspect. With the death of Mtukudzi, Zimbabwe lost its leading light internationally, a beacon that had blazed a trail around the continent and in the process placed himself head and shoulders above his compatriots.
Having conquered his country, he went on to charm the rest of Africa, subduing millions with the hypnotising power of sweet melody and ingenious music composition.
While the likes of Bhundu Boys, Thomas Mapfumo and even Leonard Dembo won hearts around the continent and beyond, few artistes after Tuku have built a notable profile beyond the country’s borders.
Cracking the continent is a tough task and few have proved up to it. For one, many of the country’s brightest young musical talents lack that Zimbabwean authenticity, that ingredient that has proved elusive to a generation that has grown up on staple of foreign music. It is an ingredient that Tuku had in abundance and one that the country’s hip-hop and dancehall stars, who already have to compete with international stars in those genres, seem to lack.
However, it is not all gloom. There exists in the country’s music scene a tribe of musicians that seem to share Tuku’s DNA. One thing that connects them is their love for acoustic guitar, an instrument that runs like a thread throughout all their music.
It is in this brotherhood that Zimbabwe might find a star to once again shine for the continent and the globe at large.
Victor Kunonga has drunk from the same gourd as the gods. In the years leading up to their deaths a year apart from each other, both Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela seemed to trust Kunonga with the one thing probably dearest to them: their music. How an artiste, a few decades younger than the two African music giants, convinced the two to make them the producer of their joint album is a mystery.
Tuku’s guitar is now silent and Masekela’s trumpet no longer wails, so the chances of anyone ever hearing the melodious fruit of those recording sessions in Harare are slim. However, music lovers can console themselves with the fact that Kunonga, the man that Hugh Masekela said had the potential to be a superstar, is alive.
Kunonga has long been acknowledged as a force on the country’s Afro Jazz scene, with his hit Maidarirei proving that he is indeed a master song craftsman and a weaver of socially relevant tales.
It remains to be seen whether the time spent with the two legends will push him towards much deserved international stardom.
Watching Munyaradzi Nyamarebvu in action is like viewing a hologram of a young Tuku. When he took to the stage at the 2015 edition of the Intwasa Arts Festival, many were astounded at the sight of the young man in front of them. Nyamarebvu, hand-picked and trained at Tuku’s Pakare Paye stable, has adopted many of his mentor’s mannerisms on stage. The way he holds the guitar, sudden tilt of the head: It all screams Oliver Mtukudzi! However, despite a strong voice and magical fingers on the acoustic guitar, Nyamarebvu is still a stranger to the average music lover. Music lovers will hope that with the exit of the man he owes so much to, Nyamarebvu will finally emerge as a force.
Wataffi has had an interesting musical journey. While a lesser artiste might have faded after the death of Afrika Revenge, a group that proved that even young musicians could make music grounded on the country’s rich musical culture, Wataffi has preserved and forged ahead with his career.
Wataffi is back in full force, with critics eating out of the palm of his hand after the recent release of his album, Uhuru / Independence, many will be expecting him to go on and do bigger things.
For his part, the man who found his voice in the superstar making factory called Amakhosi Cultural Centre wants to walk a path not trodden by Tuku’s giant footsteps.
“I believe Dr Tuku walked in his own path and was allowed to leave his own legacy. I too am walking in my own and I don’t believe there’s a living soul that can replace the late great legend Tuku,” he told Sunday Life.
Another product of Pakare Paye, Mbeu has already tasted the bitter-sweet result of even attempting to walking in Tuku’s shoes. After being given the honour of leading the Black Spirits during this year’s Cape Town Jazz Festival, he was immediately sucked into the Mtukudzi family cold war, as some questioned why he had agreed to lead the band.
For some music lovers, the sight of Mbeu wielding Tuku’s trademark guitar with steel rings felt fitting, although the young artiste would have preferred his nylon stringed instrument instead. After that performance he was on the defensive, as he faced an onslaught from those that felt that the guitar did not belong in his young hands. As his career kicks up a gear, his fans hope that one day everyone will be proud to see him wielding that acoustic guitar again in future.