One of Zimbabwe and Africa’s most iconic musicians, Oliver Mtukudzi, died on Wednesday at age 66 after decades of rollicking, captivating performances won him devoted fans worldwide.
“It is difficult to accept, I have no words,” said musician and poet Albert Nyathi, who joined several other mourners at the hospital in the capital, Harare, where the star passed away. “What is left is to celebrate his life.”
SPOTIFY Playlist: Oliver Mtukudzi
Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper reported that Mtukudzi had “succumbed to a long battle with diabetes.”
Tributes for the man popularly known as Tuku began to flow with, fans sending in their condolences.
An African Musical Giant has fallen. I shall always treasure these words by Oliver Mtukudzi, "Africa, we need to tell our stories our own way, others are doing that, let's not be copy cats". A fervent Africanist who advanced the African cause through his music#RIPOliverMtukudzi pic.twitter.com/kYyCPEi54B
— Bruce Mutuma (@MutumaKaai) January 23, 2019
Really saddened by the news of the passing of the legendary Oliver Mtukudzi 🇿🇼🇿🇦 23 January never loved us💔
Hugh Masekela 23-01-2018
Oliver Mtukudzi 23-01-2019
— 🔍 The Anonymous👤 (@Sibu_DaAuthor) January 23, 2019
As well as possibly the country’s best-known musical export, Mtukudzi was a businessman, philanthropist, human rights activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the Southern Africa Region.
With his distinctive husky voice, Mtukudzi had a career that stretched from white minority-ruled Rhodesia to majority-ruled Zimbabwe, producing a string of hits that spread his fame across Africa and eventually to an international audience.
Paul Mangwana, a senior official with Zimbabwe’s ruling party, praised Mtukudzi for remaining “apolitical,” saying he supported calls for the singer to be buried at the national heroes’ acre, a shrine that is a preserve of ruling party elites.
“He was a nation-builder. Where it was necessary to criticize he would, and where it was necessary to praise he would,” Mangwana said at the hospital.
In a country where political tensions are high and party loyalties matter, Mtukudzi cut across the divide, singing at ruling party events but also performing at late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s wedding and funeral.
“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 said.
One of Mtukudzi’s biggest hits was “Neria,” a mournful song about the tribulations of a woman who was thrown into poverty when her husband died because customary law did not allow her to inherit his property. It was the title song of a movie of the same name.
NERIA: Oliver Mtukudzi
In 1980, Mtukudzi celebrated Zimbabwe’s independence by singing the country’s new national anthem, “Ishe Komborera Africa” (God Bless Africa) with a reggae inflection.
ISHE KOMBORERA AFRICA: Oliver Mtukudzi
He sang, played guitar and danced while directing a tight band of guitarists, keyboards, percussionists and dancers. He released more than 60 albums and made several successful international tours, performing in neighboring South Africa late last year.
He also was known for mentoring young Zimbabwean musicians. “He was like a father figure,” said MacDonald Chidavaenzi, a songwriter and producer.
Mtukudzi’s company in a statement called him a “national icon” as well as “a father, brother, grandfather, uncle, and above all a husband to his loving wife Daisy Mtukudzi.”
Mtukudzi wrote songs in a style that were a mix of Zimbabwean and South African rhythms that became known at “Tuku music.”
The ruling African National Congress in South Africa tweeted simply “Rest in peace.”
Reporting from The Associated Press and CGTN Africa.