How does Zimbabwean music echo the past into the present?

The funny thing is that I grew up disliking Oliver Mtukudzi’s music, today I want to get all of his albums. As a child, I heard  Mtukudzi’s music during the painfully long drive to our rural home and  at family gathering in which I would get scolded for not knowing my mum’s half brother’s cousin’s sister’s brothers. Wedding parties choreographed exciting dance routines to his rhythms, and my dad played it on quiet Saturday afternoons while he sipped his Pilsener.

Like many other children in my generation, (and probably my privileged social position), I was more interested in the hits that came out of MTV  or South African kwaito.  Back then, my little ignorant self thought that listening to Mtukudzi was a sign of backwardness and a  dying tradition.

It is only after I came to the USA a few years ago that I finally started appreciating Zimbabwean music, particularly that of Oliver Mtukudzi. Sometimes being away from home, makes you desperately attempt to preserve your cultural identity. Initially, I started listening to him because it reminded me of the happy memories that I had with my family and friends. Today, I have learnt to acknowlege his musical technique, but above all else his song writing.

Tuku- (This is short for Mtukudzi), fills his songs with old Shona (and sometimes Ndebele)  proverbs that challenge people to think about social issues. His writing is poetic and powerful because he uses simple phrases to provoke people to notice things that can easily be unnoticed.

In the song below, Tuku asks a simple question: Todii? What shall we do? This is a question he asks as a way of addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has hit many Southern African countries. Through out the question he continues to ask- Doesn’t it hurt to raise a child knowing it will die? Doesn’t hurt to be sexually assaulted by someone who knows they have HIV?

Tuku warns us, ” Behind the grave there is no opportunity to pray.”

King Pinn was a Zimbabwean rapper who dies nearly a decade ago. I consider him a Zimbabwean Tupac. Here are some of phrases he repeats in his verses. Too bad he died so young!

“I salute you, anyone who spent their lives in jail, anyone who sacrificed themselves, anyone who taught me to dream

Blacks got the short straw, because we still aint got half of what we fought for

dream about the ideology of wealth, disregard the spiritual poverty within ourselves”

For more on Tuku go here:

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