The Sunday Mail
My first meeting with Oliver Mtukudzi wasn’t exactly physical — it was, naturally, through radio.
And it was the song Jerry, a tribute to his friend Jack Sadza, that made me love him. In spite of the sad background to the song, they were the sing-along lyrics that made it a favourite, not only to me but the whole nation. It rose to the national charts and was constantly on play daily.
Little did I know that years later, roughly some 20 years later, our paths were going to criss-cross on an almost weekly basis, and at times with some bit of acrimony thrown into the mix.
Having fallen in love with his music, it was only to be natural that as he re-gained his foothold on the local music industry with the release of Tuku Music and that I was now on the entertainment desk of this publication, that I would go to almost all his shows, in and around the country.
Those were the days when Nancy Manyaya was running Presdom Promotions that mostly promoted Tuku’s shows. And Debbie Metcalfe, largely credited with turning around Mtukudzi’s musical fortunes, was the manager.
During the course of attending the many live shows, it got into my ears as a rumour, that they were children claiming to be Tuku’s.
With the zeal and energy of youth, I followed every lead that I could on those rumours, meeting some of his friends in the former Jazz 105.
All these efforts drew blanks. Then I went back to my usual other duties.
Then like a bolt from the blue, Joe Mafana asked to see me down at the Herald House foyer. As a regular to Mtukudzi’s live shows, I knew Mafana just as the significant other to Mwendy Chibindi, one of the backing vocalists to the Black Spirits, Mtukudzi’s band.
Other than that, I had no intimate relationship with him.
Curiously I went down to meet him. “I am informed you are looking for information on Mtukudzi’s children,” it was more of a statement than a question. My heart was beating a pace faster now. I nodded in agreement.
What surprised me is that it had been months since I made the enquiries and had almost given up and forgotten about the issue. Anyway, he said he had much more interesting stuff than what I had been seeking, if only I could have his trust and confidence.
As well as not reveal his identity. I assured him.
He promised to come back with evidence to back up his story. Another week went by — then my cellphone rang. It was him. As per prior agreement, he could not risk being seen in the vicinity of Herald House so we had to meet in central Harare. This story is for another day.
Fast forward to a time for new music, after ditching most of his band members, Mtukudzi announced that he was going acoustic. No-one knew what that meant, in terms of sound and music, no-one understood the concept, so there was no option but to seek his explanation on the musical path he had chosen.
“You stirred the hornet’s nest, so you figure out how you will talk to him,” my editor said, which left me with no option but to drive toNorton, Pakare Paye Arts Centre, unannounced and seek an interview.
To say it was the longest two hours of my life that I can possibly remember would be a gross understating of emotions.
After waiting for what seemed an eternity in the foyer, I was finally asked in. This was to be our first meeting, face-to-face, after the Mwendy scandal — and many other stories that followed in-between.
By nature and disposition, Mtukudzi almost always spoke in measured responses. In short, he has always been a man of a few words.
Add to that disposition, our current setting and background for the interview: lack of trust, possibly anger on his side, and you will understand why for about 45 minutes, the responses were mostly “yes” and “no”, inter-spaced with “hongu” and “kwete”.
As I was to give up, being a man of so much intelligence he must have noticed, he warmed up. He gave insights into the album, what he termed acoustic, the meanings of some of the songs that he could explain.
But in typical Mtukudzi fashion, he refused to explain every song, arguing that the meaning of each and every of his songs resides with the listener. “I sing, but I don’t know how the song’s message would be interpreted. I am not the one with the meaning,” he would say.
That meeting, though it broke the ice, did not mean we were now on speaking terms. On several meetings later, before or after live shows, the icy relationship was to remain. The relationship was not to be helped either, when Sam passed away in March 2010 in a road traffic accident.
In mourning him, he used the words to the effect, “my only son”, to which someone whispered to me that how could he, when rumours are abound that he had another son at a seminary in Harare- born of a mother resident in Mutare.
The tears had hardly dried on his cheeks when he woke up to read about Selby, the son that he had never publicly acknowledged, though he had privately visited him. And what made things worse was that this was the first time that Daisy, his wife of more than a quarter-of-a-century, was getting to know about Selby. And through The Sunday Mail, of all papers.
It was whilst seeking his comments for the Selby instalment, that he thought it wiser to seek the protection of then Vice President Joyce Mujuru’s office. A letter, which on face value looked like a gag order, was written, kindly asking The Sunday Mail to lay its hands off the superstar.
Since then, I have never had occasion or reason to seek comment from him, or meet him in person. I have had the occasion, though, to attend many of his shows and as usual, any Mtukudzi live performance was always top-drawer.
It is not so much the “fighting” that I am going to miss, it is the man, the voice, his demeanour on stage, the delirious fans packed into the HICC, that will sadly be missed.
As his signature signing-off at live shows: “pangu pese ndasakura ndazunza, zvimwe hazvibvunzwe, zvimwe hazvibvunzwee”.