Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi – Wonai

CD/DVD – Released on Sheer Sound July 17th

SonglinesFull Review PDF

Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi is Zimbabwe’s biggest selling artist – a giant of African pop worldwide – and “Wonai” contains 15 of his best songs. Oliver’s music is undeniably joyfully seductive but his lyrics in Shona & English often deal with social & economic issues, political turmoil and the horrific AIDS epidemic sweeping the African continent. Oliver’s appeal crosses generations and international boundaries: one of Oliver’s biggest fans is Bonnie Raitt – Oliver was her inspiration for the song “One Belief Away” on her album ‘Fundamental’.

Tuku (as he is affectionately and respectfully known by his many fans) has a career that has spanned thirty years. An amazing body of work, including his latest hit album ‘Wonai’ which was released in South Africa this year, he has written and released forty six original, and very successful, albums.
It is his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe – continually playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country – and his socio-politically topical messages that have earned him the massive place he holds in people’s hearts today. In the past seven years, his popularity has increased exponentially in the Southern African region, indeed the entire continent and the world at large. Together with his longstanding band, The Black Spirits, he regularly ventures across borders into Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. In the past two years the group has toured the UK, USA, New Zealand and Europe extensively to great acclaim, including a sold out show at London’s Barbican Centre.

The “Wonai” DVD is sub-titled “an audio-visual journey through time” and puts moving, and sometimes painful, images to the 15 songs featured on the CD. The DVD is made up of promotional videos, some of which incorporate live footage, and extras include an interview with Tuku as well as a discography. Between them they give a good idea of both Tuku’s importance to the world of music, and to his people.

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Oliver“Tuku” Mtukudzi – Biographical Info

Tuku (as he is affectionately and respectfully known by his many fans) has a career that has spanned thirty years. An amazing body of work, including his latest hit album WONAI released in South Africa in 2006, he has composed forty six original albums (nearly all of them best-sellers). Also to his credit are several collaborations and compilations, which bring this, total up to over sixty album releases!

It is his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe– continually playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country- and his socio-politically topical messages that have earned him the massive place he holds in people’s hearts today. In the past seven years, his popularity has risen exponentially in the Southern African region, indeed the entire continent and the world at large. Together with his longstanding band The Black Spirits, he regularly ventures across borders into Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Mocambique. In the past two years the group has toured the UK, USA, New Zealand and Europe extensively.

Mtukudzi was initiated into the world of professional music in 1977 when he joined the now legendary Wagon Wheels which also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Success came to them early – the first single they recorded together, “Dzandimomotera”, rapidly went gold. This was followed by Tuku’s first album, recorded on four-track, which was also a smash hit. Some of the musicians from the Wagon Wheels line-up worked with Tuku to create the Black Spirits, the name of the band that has performed with him throughout most of his career save for a two year period towards the end of the eighties, when he performed with the Zig Zag Band.

With Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, Tuku and the Black Spirits produced “Africa”, one of the most important albums of its time, and with the two hits it spawned, “Zimbabwe” and “Mazongonyedze”, the fledgling country founded one of its first great voices. From Independence to 1997, Mtukudzi released two albums every year, establishing himself as a producer, an arranger, a prolific song-writer and, with his famous “soul-dripping” an inimitable voice, a formidable lead singer and guitarist.

Tuku has, in fact, been so innovative in these various fields that his music is now widely referred to as ‘Tuku Music’ being quite distinct from any other Zimbabwean style. This is not to say that there are no recognisable influences in his work – the traditional forms of the mbira, the South African mbaqanga style, and the popular Zimbabwean music style called jiti, all affect it deeply – but these, like katekwe, the traditional drumming patterns of his clan, the Korekore, are very much absorbed into an art which is now indubitably his own.

Yet apart from the individuality of his music, Tuku’s enduring popularity is largely a result of his powers as a lyricist. Most of his songs focus on the social and economic issues that govern people’s daily lives and, with an infectious sense of humour and optimism that prevails through all his music; his appeal extends to young and old alike. In addition his clever use of parable and allusion has kept him out of hot water with a critical political regime, his lyrics pushing his messages without naming specific names and places…

As the oldest of seven children, Oliver developed a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life due to the premature death of his father. With a desire to bring his message to a larger audience, he began to venture into the worlds of film and drama. Although he participated in several documentaries on Zimbabwean music during the 1980s, including the BBC’s “Under African Skies” and “The Soul of the Mbira”, it was not until 1990 that Tuku found film success playing the lead role in “JIT”- the first local feature film with an all-Zimbabwean cast.

“JIT” went on to be released in Denmark, France and the U.K and, in 1993, he and the Black Spirits took part in Denmark’s “Images of Africa” Festival to herald the film’s release there. The same Festival also spawned the release of a great album entitled “Ziwere” which was recorded whilst in Denmark and was the second album to be produced on CD format. The first album ever released on CD format was entitled “Shoko” which was recorded ‘live’ by Piranha Music who had invited the group to perform in Germany in 1990. This album was re-released in Zimbabwe in February 2001 and is one of numerous albums from Mtukudzi’s earlier catalogue that are now available on CD format. Until the mid-nineties, most of the artist’s catalogue had hitherto only been available on vinyl or cassette.

Tuku followed the success of “JIT” with the acting role of Neria’s brother in Zimbabwe’s second feature film, “NERIA” released in 1991, for which he also wrote and arranged the soundtrack. A serious drama dealing with the thorny issue of women’s rights in a chauvinist world, “Neria” proved to be another box-office triumph in Zimbabwe and earned Oliver the coveted M-Net Best Soundtrack Award in 1992 against stiff competition, including that of the highly-acclaimed “Sarafina”. The NERIA album has been re-recorded for release in March 2001 and now includes two versions of the title track, one by Oliver Mtukudzi & the Black Spirits and one with Mtukudzi’s regional group “MAHUBE”.

From film, Tuku turned his attention to drama, writing and directing the live musical production “Was My Child”, a project highlighting the plight of Zimbabwe’s street children. For this accomplishment, he was honoured by the Zimbabwe Writers’ Union.

But despite his commitments to film and theatre in the early nineties, Tuku continued to perform regularly in Zimbabwe with the Black Spirits and maintained his prodigious output of recorded music. In October 1993, the group were invited to perform at the Natal Performing Arts Festival; in February 1994 they conducted a six-week tour of Austria and Switzerland; and in December 1994 performed ‘live’ on a double-bill with Lucky Dube in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, which they followed up with a number of concerts in and around Cape Town the same year.

In October 1995, Tuku was selected to represent Zimbabwe in his personal capacity at the SADC Music Festival in Harare. Since then he has extended his influence, performing at such occasions as the MASA Festival in Abidjan (March 1997) where he appeared together with six of Southern Africa’s best known bands. With some support from a French recording company “Label Bleu”, Mtukudzi made the decision to take control of every aspect of his career. He employed a consultant to revisit his Contracts, revamp his business strategies and firmly established the brand name “Tuku Music”. To crown his new found independence, he chose to record his next album at Ikwezi Studio in Johannesburg and invited his long standing friend and colleague, Steve Dyer, to produce the new album. That union produced an album entitled “Tuku Music” released in Zimbabwe by ZMC in 1998 and later the same year by Label Bleu in Europe, Connoisseur Collection in the United Kingdom and Sheer Sound in South Africa.) The quality of production from the recording and mastering to the sleeve design and artwork finally reflected the true quality of Mtukudzi’s talent. A summer tour of the United Kingdom and Europe promoted the release in 1998, culminating in two performances at WOMAD U.K.

The “Tuku Music” album is still selling so well in the new millenium that it is rapidly gaining legendary status and unquestionably marked a huge turning point in Mtukudzi’s career. In 1999, “Tuku Music” was released by Putumayo World Music in USA , Canada and numerous other territories including South America, Australia and the Far East. To celebrate its release, the group completed a memorable tour of the United States and Canada as part of the AFRICA FETE North America 99 with Baaba Maal, Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate. In November 1999, Tuku released another chart buster album regionally entitled “Paivepo” meaning ‘Once Upon a Time’ which like its predecessor has proved so successful, it still ranks in Zimbabwe’s Top Ten, years after its release.

The collaborative efforts with Mtukudzi’s friend and music producer Steve Dyer, have gone well beyond the recording studio. These two great musicians are the core artists of a regional group “MAHUBE” who first came together for their debut performance in November 1997 at the ‘Out Of Afrika’ Festival in Munich. Founded by Dyer as the group’s musical director, Mahube have appeared at the Grahamstown Festival RSA, HIFA (Harare Int. Festival of the Arts), the Living Treasures Festival in Durban, South Africa, as well as enjoying a run of shows at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and at the Oude de Libertas theatre in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. They have also been to Germany twice and the group features some of the region’s greatest artists, Mahube has created a special profile and is a living example of the old adage of bringing different cultures together through music.

Oliver and the Black Spirits celebrated the new millenium as part of South Africa’s celebrity line up which was staged in Pretoria and screened across the world by satellite. In March 2000, the Barbican Centre staged both Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited together with Oliver and the Black Spirits at a sell out concert in London. A European tour in June/July saw the group stage performances in England, Holland, France, Brussels and several appearances in Germany including the Rudolstadt Festival. Another tour of North America in August / September 2000 to promote the release of “Paivepo” took the band to sixteen cities which included the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, the Street Carnival in San Diego and many other memorable shows. The last months of 2000 included four independent appearances in Botswana and a number of collaborations with regional artists.

The release of “Bvuma – Tolerance” in November 2000 created more than a few waves in the media. The lyrics on several of the tracks have created ongoing debate, especially from the title track ‘Wasakara’ which was adopted by opposition parties in Zimbabwe rather like a ‘party anthem’. The controversial publicity has succeeded in making ‘Bvuma – Tolerance’ the biggest seller ever in the course of the first two months of release in the history of the local record company, Zimbabwe Music Corporation (ZMC). Those records have probably been superceded by other artists, but Tuku’s catalogue has a perennial quality and sales remain steady despite the economic hardships being experienced by Zimbabweans.

Tuku and the Black Spirits enjoyed their first visit to Australia to perform at the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) followed by Womadelaide in Adelaide where the group performed to an audience of some 15000 people on 18 February 2001. This was followed by a ‘mega’ concert at MEGAMUSIC Warehouse Joburg, South Africa which was sold out. This hugely successful show included a duet performance with Ringo (RSA) and his group for the song INTO YAM with Steve Dyer spicing up the evening with hornlines in several songs.

The following week saw a return to the Barbican Centre in London which had also sold out to capacity with approx.2,500 people attending the show.

South Africa is becoming a second home to the group. They headed the bill for two nights at the Joburg Civic Theatre at the month end of March, before moving across to Gaborone to perform at the St. Louis Jazz Festival alongside Hugh Masekela and the Kalahari Band; three performances in Zambia took place early April followed by the Moretele Park Festival near Pretoria on Easter Sunday.

The group also performed at the closing ceremony of the Harare Int. Festival of the Arts (HIFA) early May 2000. Other African destinations have included Kenya where the group attended the Zanzibar Int. Film and Music Festival early July (ZIFF) before moving to U.K. do participate again at WOMAD followed by three other shows in England at the end of the same month. In August , they performed at the Festival for AIDS Orphans in Dickinson Park, Vereeninging before returning to Zambia to participate in the International Trade Fair which is an annual event held in Ndola. They headlined the bill at the Harare International Jazz Festival (HIFA) on 22nd August. The following weekend saw their first visit to Beira in a decade. They performed to 15,000 people headlining the bill in the Ferroviari Stadium on 1st September. The group returned to Johannesburg to participate in the ARTS ALIVE FESTIVAL on 7th at Megamusic Warehouse and 9th September at JAZZ ON THE LAKE, a annual free concert staged by the City Council which brought over 20,000 music lovers together from the Gauteng area . The band almost lived in South Africa for the last three months of 2001 performing on a wide variety of platforms, predominantly Festivals and corporate functions including the NELSPRUIT Festival on 23rd September and MACUFE Festival mid-October.

Tuku launched a new album entitled VUNZHE MOTO meaning ‘burning ember’ at the end of February 2002 in Zimbabwe followed soon after by tours to promote its release in South Africa, UK and North America. The band also embarked on a two week tour of Botswana in March 2002 followed by an official launch at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg early April. Several different trips to South Africa earlier in the year, included the TELEFOODS CONCERT (early March), NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL (end March) in Cape Town and the AFRICAN UNION concert on 9 July. April/May/June took the group to United Kingdom followed by an extensive six week tour of North America and Canada ….. the tour began with an evening on the DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW while Festivals included the NEW ORLEANS JAZZFEST where he joined Bonnie Raitt (a famous Rhythm and Blues artist) on stage to celebrate the release of her new album “Silver Lining” on which she has covered one of Oliver’s songs “Hear Me Lord”. Their paths crossed several times and Bonnie also graced the worldwide premiere of a his new film called SHANDA which was released on DVD (a first) and VHS format in Zimbabwe and RSA in October 2002. A live recording during the making of the film resulted in the release of a “live recording” which features ten tracks covering some golden oldies. The film produced by CROSS CULTURE is a feature documentary built around key songs that Oliver selected as being turning points in his career. In May 2004 Shanda won an award in the Best Original Music category at the 2004 Novatel Atrium Darwin Down Under International Film Festival in Australia!

The World Summit on Sustainable Development took Oliver and the Black Spirits back to South Africa and Swaziland. He also featured in the 2002 ARTS ALIVE FESTIVAL again, with Mahube, alongside Manu Dibango and Ray Lema in early September. The band graced the launch of the refurbished Market Theatre before returning to Zimbabwe for the INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL staged in Harare on 14 September 2002.

Tuku’s 50th birthday was celebrated with thousands of jazz lovers at the JOY OF JAZZ FESTIVAL at Dickenson Park, Vereeniging on 22nd September 2002. On 28 September, the group performed at the launch of a Zimbabwean initiative called MUSIC FOR FOOD in Harare, to try and promote local incentive to raise funds to support the growing food crisis in Zimbabwe. The band finally made it to celebrate Botswana’s Independence Day celebrations in Gaborone on 30 September 2002. September also saw the launch of a live album entitled “SHANDA” featuring ten songs that Tuku considers marked turning points in his lengthy career.

Oliver and the band participated for the first time at the LONDON JAZZ FEST at the Royal Festival Hall in November 2002 and performed to packed houses in Leicester, Milton Keynes and South end. December took them to Lesotho, Swaziland and four provinces in South Africa as well as a double-bill line-up with Ringo Madlingozi back in Harare just before Xmas.
Back home, the demand for the Black Spirits has grown to the point where it is impossible to satisfy demand. But it is not before time that the Southern African region has recognised Oliver Mtukudzi’s glaring talent as a prolific songwriter and composer. His many years of unwavering dedication to creating music are finally giving Tuku the recognition he deserves. He won his first KORA AWARD in 2002 in “Best Arrangement’ for the song “Ndakuvara”. He was also nominated for ‘Best Regional Artist’. On 15 February, he won a NAMA Award (National Arts Council of Zimbabwe) for Best Artist / Group and was nominated for the SAMA 2003 (RSA) Awards in the category of ‘Best African Artist’. . During the course of 2003 Tuku spent more time in the region or abroad than in Zimbabwe. The groups performances included two tours to the United Kingdom (April/June), Europe in May/June and North America and Canada for seven weeks during July/August. Since returning to the Southern African region, the group have performed in Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and all over South Africa including Robben Island, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Witbank, Mafeking, Pretoria and Johannesburg. In April, he appeared on the Joe Phat Show and Jerry Springer Celebrity Show and launched the new ‘HOLA FAME’ series on SATV 1 on 09 May 2003. Tuku was featured in TIME AFRICA magazine in April 2003 in an article entitled “The People’s Voice” and becomes the first African musician ever to feature on the front cover of the magazine. The article was also featured the same week in TIME magazine in Europe.

A Greatest Hits collection “Greatest Hits…The Tuku Years 1998 to 2002” was also released by Sheer Sound RSA.
In November, 2003, the group embarked on a short UK tour beginning with a BBC World Service Aids Awareness concert, a highly prestigious event which on 7th, which was staged and broadcast ‘live’ from London into 150 countries (for programme – see website). November also saw the release of a new album, entitled ‘TSIVO……Revenge’ in Zimbabwe, Mocambique and South Africa, which is his first semi-acoustic and was recorded in his own studio in Norton, Zimbabwe.
Everything but the mastering was done in the studio, which took Tuku a few years to build. Over the years he has collected acoustic instruments including an acoustic bass given to him by one of his biggest fans, fellow musician Bonnie Raitt. In a way however, it’s like turning the clock back to 1975 when Tuku recorded his very first song ‘Stop After Go’. Then it was just him and his guitar and the idea was just to hear his music played on local radio. Almost three decades on, Tuku’s music has, like a good wine, improved with age and is played and sold all over the world. Of course Tuku is older – he turned fifty one on 22 September 2003.
The band also performed for the first time in Namibia at the end of November 2003 before embarking on another series of Festivals in South Africa to round up the year. ‘Mahube’ Tuku’s regional group co-founded with his Producer Steve Dyer, launched their second album entitled “Qhubeka” (moving forward) at the beginning of March in RSA, Swaziland and Mocambique and Botswana.

A Spring tour of North America took place in April 2004, as well as UK, Europe and extensive travel in the SADC region.
November 2004 saw the release of Tuku’s 48th album “Nhava” (which loosely translated means “An empty handy bag”), and again features his band, The Black Spirits. The album was recorded in Tuku’s own Samanyanga studio at his home in Norton, Zimbabwe, and is self produced. It is a continuation of Tuku’s great music, and infectious, danceable sounds. Almost three decades on, his music has steadily impressed and garnered him millions of fans the world over. The 52 year old is still one of Africa’s leading and most loved musicians. With a proven track record of popularity and South African sales figures for his albums well over the 500 000 mark, this release speaks for itself!

Oliver Mtukudzi appeared on the cover and was the main focus of a story in TIME magazine’s African edition in Jan 2005. He has also scooped the cover of America’s “Global Rhythm” mag recently with a feature article around the “Nhava” release…

The most recent addition to Tuku’s magical bag of tricks is the CD “Wonai”. Meaning “please watch” the release stands as a “Best of…” featuring all the hits, and is coupled by a DVD release pooling 15 magical moments into one package. This is a first and a major milestone for Tuku as it is the first time this material has ever seen a commercial release on DVD and includes retrospective tracks, as well as bonus features, that have never been freely available to the public before….

Oliver Mtukudzi is truly one of Southern Africa’s greatest musicians, writers and performers. He star is still rising and will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come!

Worldwide Management & Representation:

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