Tributes pour in for Zimbabwean Afro-jazz legend Oliver Mtukudzi

One of Africa’s most renowned musicians, Mtukudzi’s lyrics often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and politics.

Tributes are flowing for Zimbabwean musician Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, a star of Afro-jazz who won a following across Africa and beyond after he died on Wednesday aged 66.

According to various local media reports, the self-taught guitarist passed away at a hospital in Harare, succumbing to diabetes complications.

A legend in the vibrant cross-genre music of Afro-jazz, Mtukudzi released 66 albums in a career that spanned 45 years.

He was rated by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s 10 most bankable artists and some experts ranked him alongside Senegal’s Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour for his innovation and influence.

His lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.

“Today we said goodbye to a true patriot. Oliver Mtukudzi, your voice has given us comfort during difficult times, and will remain with us for posterity,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter.

“If anyone ever made me proud to be Zimbabwean it was you,” former Zimbabwean Minister of Education David Coltart said. “Thank you for making us happy for so long, especially during the darkest days”.

Former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, also paid his respects on Twitter, saying “[Mtukudzi’s] music has carried us through some of our darkest and happiest times”.

Mtukudzi’s work – dubbed “Tuku music” – was a mixture of ethnic styles, including the Zulu-rooted mbaqanga from South Africa, and drew on diverse instruments, including Zimbabwe’s mbira, a metal-tined, hand-held instrument.

We were privileged to share the stage with the great Tuku and had the honour of meeting him in person, said reggae band Morgan Heritage.

“He was a giant of a musician and so humble at the same time. We pray the legacy of this great musician lives on forever”.

Mtukudzi was famed for his philanthropy and commitment to human rights and served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s children’s agency Unicef.

In an interview with the AFP news agency last March, he played down the acclaim, saying “I don’t even understand the word celebrity”.

Instead, he said, he set great store by the words of his mother, who declared he would never sing a note better than his first scream after his birth.

“It means when I was born I had already started singing. This is who I am.” 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies