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Oliver Mtukudzi: The man and what drove his music

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By Billy Odidi
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The outpouring of tributes that has greeted the death of Zimbabwean singer and guitarist Oliver Mtukudzi is a reflection of the reverence and esteem that he had earned around the world during the course of a half-century career in music.

The 66-year-old Mtukudzi and his band, The Black Spirits, performed in Kenya numerous times and commanded a huge fan loyalty even though many fans identified with just a handful of his songs, notably the signature hit “Todii”.

One of his closest friends in Kenya was singer and guitarist Suzanna Owiyo, who says they connected when she first met him in a TV studio in Kenya more than 10 years ago.

“He saw me carrying a guitar and asked me to play a tune which I did. We ended up jamming in the studio and became friends since then,” she recalls.

One of the highlights of her career was the experience of recording the song “Uyie” from her second album My Roots with Mtukudzi.

“He gave me the confidence to play the guitar for my own recordings rather than hire a session musician as I did in the past,” says Owiyo.

She says she learnt that even musicians of Mtukudzi’s calibre face some of the same challenges as lesser known artists in managing a group of musicians.

“We once played at a charity show in Uganda and he wasn’t happy with his band, so when he returned to Harare, he fired the entire group and recruited fresh musicians. He told me that managing a band requires strong leadership because artists can be a tough lot to handle.”

No matter how many times you watched the tall, lithe figure with a searing voice on stage, he always seemed to step up the quality of his trademark high-energy performance.

The longevity of his music career, spanning 67 albums and many tours around the world, was due to his prolific writing and recording of material, an ability to remain relevant by winning new fans while retaining the loyalty of those who have known and loved his music.

Mtukudzi combined electric guitars, keyboard and bass with traditional mbira (thumb piano), marimba and the hosho shakers to create his brand, “Tuku Music” named after an abbreviation of his surname.

It was a sound that veers between traditional Shona music, South African township music and American gospel and soul.

That husky voice remained the most distinct identity of his music as heard on the 1997 hit “Todii” that dealt with the HIV/AIDS transmission within the family at a time when it was still considered anathema, and other popular songs like “Ndakuvara”, “Neria” and “Hear Me Lord”.

Fans who had the privilege of watching him perform will remember an artist with abundant energy whose repertoire on stage would run into hours.

“He was two different personalities,” says Owiyo. “Offstage he was reflective and measured while his stage personality was explosive,” she says.

Mtukudzi once said that he didn’t come to a performance with a set list of songs as is the practice, but instead gauged the mood of the crowd before him and knew exactly what song to start the show with and how to proceed from that point on.

He retained a work ethic that made him one of Africa’s leading and most loved musicians. “He was a regular guy but with very sophisticated tastes,” says Owiyo. “When I first visited his home in Harare, I was astonished to find that his swimming pool was designed in the shape of a guitar.”

Mtukudzi recorded his first song “Stop After Go” in 1975.

Then it was just him and his guitar and the idea was to hear his music played on local radio. He returned to his acoustic roots three decades later when he recorded his first acoustic album Tsivo (Revenge).

Incidentally, the album, his 47th, was the first to be recorded in his own Samanyanga studio at his home in Norton, Zimbabwe.

Over the years, he collected acoustic instruments including an acoustic bass given to him by one of his biggest fans, US musician Bonnie Raitt.

Mtukudzi was born on September 22, 1952 in the Harare (then called Salisbury) township of Highfield, the cradle of Zimbabwean nationalism and home to Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and other liberation heroes.

His career started in 1977 when, as a 25 year old, he joined a band called Wagon Wheels whose members included Thomas Mapfumo, the other truly global Zimbabwean music star.

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It was some members of this group that left with Tuku to form a new band, the Black Spirits, which remains his recording and touring Band until his death.

He developed a style so distinct from other forms of Zimbabwean music styles like chimurenga and jit that Tuku Music became a brand on its own, wholly associated with the man himself. By the late 1990s, Mtukudzi had acquired an international status, on a par with contemporaries like Papa Wemba from the DRC, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, Mali’s Salif Keita and Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde with whom he recorded “Africa Nossa” in 2006

When the US news magazine Time run a cover story on Tuku in 2003, they called him “The People’s Voice.”

In a country that has experienced its share of political and economic upheaval, it comes as no great surprise that most of Tuku’s lyrics dwell on the social and economic issues that dominate the every day life of Zimbabweans.

But unlike his compatriot Mapfumo, who fled to exile at the height of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship, Tuku lived in Zimbabwe throughout the political turmoil perhaps because his music did not explicitly challenge the regime in the manner that Mapfumo’s did.

In her book Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe, American ethnomusicologist Jennifer Kyker writes that Mtukudzi’s music was grounded on the Shona concept of hunhu, which he called the ‘umbrella that covers whatever I talk about in every song of mine’ “He invoked hununu to encourage listeners to reflect upon what it means to live well with others, and to embody principles of mutuality, reciprocity and dialogue in the context of their own lives”

As a result, his songs about gender relations, HIV/AIDS, or migration, assumed metaphorical significance as political commentary. Mtukudzi said his intentions as a songwriter were not political.

“I truly believe I’m way above governments, because I am an artist. I am not a politician in art … An artist represents everybody, a politician in art represents a certain class of people,” he famously said at the height of Zimbabwe’s political crisis.

Though his hectic tour schedule kept him on the road for months at a time, Tuku remained committed to mentoring the next generation of musicians through a training centre called Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton, near Harare.

This is an institution where boys and girls as young as 7 attend music lessons and whenever he was in Zimbabwe, Mtukudzi could be found jamming with different musicians at the Centre on weekends.

Zimbabwean singer, songwriter and guitarist Tariro Negitare, who performed at the Women In Music series in Nairobi in September last year, recalled how her compatriot mentored her.

“The first time he saw me, I was still playing in a band and he said ‘well done, but next time, remember to tune your guitar. Since that day he literally took me under his wing and became a father figure for me and other artists in Zimbabwe.”

He was concerned about the direction of African music and Owiyo recalls an encounter he had with musicians in Kisumu when he advised them to remain true to the roots of African music.

“He told them that it was OK to borrow from other sounds in the world but to only use that to enrich your own music, not to replace it.”

Members of his own family have also followed the legend’s footsteps with his daughter Selmor Mtukudzi gaining attention as a jazz and soul singer. Mtukudzi recorded the song “Sarawoga” (Shona for left alone) to express his grief over the death of his son Sam a guitar player and saxophonist who passed in 2010 in a car crash at the age of just 21.

In a strange twist of fate, Mtukudzi’s death came exactly on the first anniversary of his friend, the legendary South African Hugh Masekela.

The two musicians worked together on the song Tapera that talks about the devastating effects of HIV AIDS in Zimbabwe for Masekela’s last album, No Borders.

Mtukudzi’s acting roles included films like the 1990 movie “Jit”, the first feature film with a cast composed exclusively of Zimbabweans and 1991’s “Neria”.



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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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