Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Zimbabwe Culture: Mtukudzi Says Music Not For Western-backed Opposition

Mtukudzi says music not for MDC

By Stephen T. Maimbodei
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald

LIFE is a voyage for superstars like Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi. His successful musical career is an illustration of a life well lived, especially when in a few days, he will be celebrating his 56th birthday.

However, it is also a life fraught of questions and mysteries. If Tuku was to declare today that he is a Dynamos FC supporter, I guess that Highlanders FC supporters would not really bother.

But the moment Tuku through his music, and even the people he socialises with, gives the slightest hint of his political affiliation, then it would directly and indirectly, rightly and wrongly be seen as endorsing a political party or leader.

This is because art, especially music shapes opinions and the way people perceive national issues.

While in the seventies it was obvious that Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo’s musical messages targeted the Rhodesian regime, and that their music was also a source of encouragement for freedom fighters fighting the Ian Smith regime, it is not the same today. The political landscape is not the same. The players are different, and so are the issues at stake.

As a very successful musician people now want to know through his music who exactly "Tuku" is singing for, and what he is singing about. It is an issue "Tuku" cannot shrug off both at home and away. People the world over seem to want to know his true political affiliation between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change.

Some like the BBC believe that his music is good enough to decide the superstar’s political leanings. It is not clear how they arrive at such a conclusion.

A few years ago, his former manager Debbie Metcalfe was on record maintaining that "Tuku" was apolitical. But the issue has to refused to go away, since music is also an industry known for using the carrot and stick method to reward or punish if an artist goes against its principles, political affiliation included.

Political overtones in "Bvuma"?

This writer recalls that soon after the release of his hit album "Bvuma", "Tuku" held a show at the National Sports Stadium’s VIP lounge to launch the album. He initially played some of his best tracks that made the name "Tuku" synonymous with excellent performances. The audience was on edge. They were waiting for the title track, "Bvuma".

When the first chord was struck, the crowd went berserk. Suddenly, red cards started flashing out. This author remembers all too well how scary the atmosphere was. The stampede at an international soccer match where some soccer fans lost lives was too fresh in the mind.

This was at the height of the "Chinja"(change) crusade when Movement for Democratic Change hoped against hope that Zimbabwe was entering a new dispensation. Thus to some, their interpretation of Tuku’s hit song "Bvuma" was a direct challenge to President Mugabe to call it quits and give way to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Some of the songs that have also become the bone of contention are, "Iwe mukuru", "Ndakuvara", "Vhunze moto."

Art and politics

That is the nature of art. It speaks different things to different people and in a number of cases, people enforce an interpretation that suits their line of thinking and the message also changes with time and it also courts controversy.

We can therefore rightly ask whether art, music especially is political tool?

The nature of art, be it music, paintings or literature is that it can assume qualities whose elements can be interpreted to suit the nature of the environment at any given period. Thus art is not only for yesterday, but it is also relevant for today and for the future. Art also knows no boundaries, be it political, religious or cultural.

Art also never dies? It assumes different lives at any given moment for artists are the oracles in our midst whose foresight brings together yesterday, today and tomorrow’s worlds in our midst. Theirs is a responsibility that talks about the cultural, social, economic, political and religious worlds of our time, the future included.

There are such musical greats like Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi, Simon Chimbetu, Cde Chinx and others whose music has always had a direct or indirect political tinge that is relevant to the Zimbabwe of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Their messages do not relate to the Zimbabwe of their time only, but it assumes a prophetic meaning since it speaks into the future, and come the future, it will still be relevant for another future.

Since the release of "Bvuma", Tuku has found himself most of the time having to address the messages in his music vis-à-vis the political thinking of the day, especially at a time likes this when Zimbabwe, politically and economically is at the crossroads.

Some of his fans want him to come clean on where exactly he stands politically. Even some in the Western world where his music has been popularised, and where he has gained notoriety also want him to declare where he stands, politically.

This has been the case with the hit album "Bvuma" (admit) and others like "Iwe mukuru" (you/hey old man). Tuku’s music continues to be under the spotlight, and so too his political inclinations. Not only him, but this applies to all successful artists. Unless it is a love song and sometimes gospel music, there are always chances of being branded.

Tuku declares, he does not sing for MDC

Artists, especially musicians as social commentators can easily sway public opinion and change the political climate. But how do we separate politics from social issues?

If "Tuku" were to hold a Press conference today and tell the nation which political party he belongs to, this would be one of the most important statements of his life time since it would instantly change Zimbabwe’s political map.

However, the pressure that Mtukudzi faces comes more from outside than from within Zimbabwe. For it is news to them to know which political party one of Zimbabwe's most celebrated musician supports.

This is why Tuku’s weekend interview with the BBC World Services was not surprising, but was newsworthy since "Tuku" made it very clear to BBC listeners that his music was not for the Movement for Democratic Change.

It is within this context that in post-independent Zimbabwe and since the release of "Bvuma", ‘Tuku’s music has come under the spotlight as listeners argue that the lyrics in most of the tracks recorded after "Bvuma" are heavily laden with political overtones.

"Tuku", who is currently touring the United Kingdom, was also cornered when he was forced to make his position clear regarding the messages in his music since the BBC claimed that "Tuku" sings for the MDC, a claim he vehemently denied.

"Tuku", who has decided to stay in Zimbabwe in the midst of economic challenges while some in his league have sought "greener pastures" distanced himself from claims by the opposition MDC that his music is political and anti-Government, and he also told the BBC that his music was not written for the MDC.

Refuting the claims "Tuku" said that if the MDC was using his songs especially the hit songs "Bvuma" and "Iwe mukuru" for their own political agenda, it would be a matter of time because this would work against them.

He told the interviewer that his music was not written for the MDC. "Tuku" also claimed that his music was cultural and not political, and has a lifespan that outlives the issues of any given period, and that it could be translated and interpreted anyhow. "Tuku" said that a good artist writes music that is relevant for yesterday, today and tomorrow, maintaining that these were the qualities of a good song.

He argued that the MDC was only using what they believed to be relevant to their agenda in the songs.

The musician also maintained that art, good art has a timeless shelf life, and it can be interpreted anyhow during the different stages in its shelf life.

Asked about the joyful sentiments from his music, "Tuku" remarked, "I don’t know what you call joy. The purpose of music is to diffuse tension."

Commenting on "Iwe mukuru" Tuku said that it was not a song targeted at anyone, but rather, it was for everybody. He argued that it could not have been for the MDC since he wrote the song in 1975.

Speaking about the HIV/Aids pandemic, which has ravaged the country, and has affected many musicians, and has also reduced life expectancy among men to 37 years, "Tuku" emphasised the need for self-discipline and responsible behaviour at the individual level. He contended that it was not a matter of government or any organisation to regulate self-discipline, responsible behaviour and respect for others.

The superstar also conceded that the pandemic has ravaged the music industry, and argued that what needs to be done depends not on the government, but on individuals. Said "Tuku": "It’s about you. What are you doing? Are you disciplined enough? It’s not about any organisation. It’s about every human being."

Asked about his message to President Mugabe, the music icon said that he wanted to live in his own country and he hoped that the economic downturn would be decisively dealt with.

The question, however, remains why it is so important for successful artists like Oliver Mtukudzi to openly declare their political allegiances. One of the many questions this author came up with was, was this a checklist by the BBC to see whether ‘Tuku’ should continue to be granted a visa if he does not buy into their change agenda.

Only time will tell.

1 comment:

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