He narrates the story at some of his shows. It is a sad tale that Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi jovially recounts about the beginning of his career. Although he spices it up with jokes, it is evident the narration has a soft spot in his heart
It is a touching account of how hard times forced him to become a musician. Because of colourful achievements that he has amassed through music, Tuku can look back and laugh at his yesteryear scenario, yet the reality of his 1970s situation wasmiserable. It is a perfect example of tough times bearing greatness, albeit after a lengthy gestation.
Many times before he plays the song “Dzandimomotera”, Tuku takes his fans down memory lane.
And his recent performance in Highfield, where the whole story began, easily became the most appropriate platform for his tale.
“Like any other young man from Highfield, I had a dream of working for a prestigious company. I joined the daily trek to look for work in industrial areas and the city centre,” Mtukudzi began his story.
“I made many trips to prospective employers without success and, because of hard times, I would sometimes walk all the way from the city centre.
“One day as I was making my way on foot from the city centre to Highfield after another futile job hunt, I felt so weak and hopeless. I was hungry and tired. I asked myself many questions and could not get any answer. It was just a challenging time.”
Tuku narrated how he would avoid the main road to Highfield because he was ashamed of being seen by employed ladies on buses on their way from work. Besides being unemployed, he had a dream of dating a beautiful girl and eventually settling in marriage.
He did not want his story of walking from the city to Highfield to be a common tale in his neighbourhood. So he chose a discreet route, which was also shorter, for his footing escapades.
“There were many employed ladies from my area that proudly used public transport to and from work. They knew I was unemployed but I did not want them to see me walking from town. I knew the story would spread in my area and I would be laughing stock. I tried by all means to avoid the roads used by public transport.
“After the Beatrice Road (Simon Mazorodze) fly-over I would go via the industrial area and stop for a short rest at Moja Shopping Centre. I would then pass by Harare Hospital and Southerton Shops and cross Willowvale Road at the Southerton Police junction.
“I would pass through the industrial area near Chinyaradzo Children’s home and then cross into Highfield near Mangwende Drive. That was my route.
“So on the day in question. I had just passed Moja Shopping Centre and making my way uphill towards Harare Hospital. I was hungry, tired and distressed. You can picture a tall man in such a scenario snailing up a hill.
“As I felt so helpless, a song just came to my mind. I began singing ‘ini handidi nhamo/ ini handimbodi nhamo/ ini handidi nhamo ini hossana’ and that was how this track came to be.”
It was the day that Tuku decided to be serious with music because he could not find a job. Today, Tuku has raised the country’s flag high in many parts of the world because of a decision he made when he was unemployed, hungry and tired.
When Tuku then played the song “Dzandimomotera” at the recent Highfield show, fans went wild after they apparently visualised the musician’s situation as he narrated what happened more than five decades ago in their environs.
The musician went on to tell how on that day a neighbour who worked in the Southerton industrial area rescued his gnawing stomach.
“As I was passing by a gate of a company in the area near Chinyaradzo Children’s Home, someone called my name. He said ‘Orivha, Orivha. Where are you coming from? You look so tired’. Those days I was still ‘Orivha’ not ‘Oliver’,” he joked, putting a silver lining to his sad tale.
“I knew the man from my neighbourhood and I told him I was hungry. He made me wait by the gate and brought a soft drink. It was my first time to drink Spar-letta cherry plum brand. It was really nice and I felt I should share it with my brother Robert who was at home.
“I drank half of it and decided to bring Robert the remainder. I requested to take the bottle with me and our neighbour amphasised I should bring back the empty bottle. On my way, I continued singing ‘ini handidi nhamo/ ini handimbodi nhamo hossana’.
“However, because the drink was so tasty, I finished it along the way. When I got home, I showed Robert the empty bottle and my purple tongue to prove I had drunk cherry plum, which was still new in the market.
“I told him I had intended to bring half the beverage, but had been too hungry to keep it. I also told him that I was tired of poverty and unemployment. I told him of my decision to quit job-hunting for music. Once again I sang ‘ini handidi nhamo’ (I don’t want poverty) and that was the beginning of a serious journey in music.”
Tuku worked with his brother Robert in the early days of his career that has gone through various phases.
He released his debut single, “Stop After Orange,” in 1975. He briefly worked with Wagon Wheels, a group that also had Thomas Mapfumo. He later went solo and formed his group Black Spirits.
“Dzandimomotera” became the group’s first single and it was a hit. This was the song inspired by Tuku’s dire situation and it launched his career in a big way.
Over the years, Tuku’s career has had its highs and lows, but the musician has remained focused. He says losing his son Sam, who had begun making his own way in music, was the saddest part of his life and career.
Hard work and consistency have paid off for Tuku who is now rated as the best Zimbabwean musician on the international scene. He has toured internationally and collaborated with some of the best musicians on the continent.
At 63, Tuku has 63 albums. When he turns 64 in September, Tuku will have 64 albums since he is preparing to launch a new release “Eheka Nhai Yahwe” next month.
His current album “Mukombe WeMvura” is still doing well and he seems determined to keep rolling out more stuff as he continues to pursue a commitment he made under those harsh circumstances in the 1970s when he declared he did not want poverty anymore.