Oliver Mtukudzi is a Zimbabwean musician whose career kicked off when Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia. At the time Robert Mugabe, now president of Zimbabwe since 1987, was fighting for the country’s independence. Mtukidzi earned his popularity by performing political songs that spoke of national pride, resistance and unity, and eventually became the new voice of an independent Zimbabwe. But now, almost 30 years later, Mugabe’s government keeps the population on a tight leash, in a country where the is no freedom of speech or political expression, unless it is pro-governmental.
Mtukuzi’s style is know as Tuku, and it is a mixture of several musical elements; A fast percussive Zimbabwean dance beat, the repetitive mbira of Zimbabwe’s Shona people (audible in the background). His sound is one of a kind, that type that makes you recognise his music even if you don’t know the song, and his lyrics have become ever more popular as they speak to the people in a unique way. Mtukudzi sings in Shona interspersed with a bit of English, and the lyrics give advice on life. His lyrics never openly criticise the Zimbabwean government, however his fans think his message is very clear, and often call him “iron hand in a velvet glove”.
Mtukudzi’s most controversial track is “Wasakara” (You Are Worn Out), from his album Bvuma (Tolerance) released in 2000. “Wasakara” clearly states that old men should know when to step down and rest: “You are old, you are spent, it is time to accept you are old.” Many Zimbabweans say that this is a reference to the 91-year-old Mugabe. The song came out more than ten years ago, and Mugabe is still very much in power. The opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, used “Wasakara” as its unofficial anthem when the song came out.
The artist is proud of the fact that his songs dont have a definite life span, and that his fans interpret it, he once stated:
“All my songs work yesterday, today and tomorrow. My definition of a good song is a song that the next person is able to use.”
Indeed, his music is a music of all time, and people have related to it since the 70s. If we think of how many things have changed in the last 40 years, we realise how timeless Mtukudzi’s music is.
Here is a translation of the chorus
Bvuma bvuma iwe: Admit, hey admit
Bvuma wasakara bvuma wakurawe: Admit you have gotten old
Bvuma waunyana: Admit you are worn out
Chikusakara Chiiko kukurawe: What is getting old?
Chikusakara Chiiko kukurawe: What is growing up?