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.
In 1980, he celebrated Zimbabwe’s independence by singing the country’s new national anthem, “Ishe Komborera Africa” (God Bless Africa) with a reggae inflection.
Tuku, as he was widely known, avoided political controversy. The closest he came was with his 2001 song Bvuma, which in the Shona language means “accept that you are old” and was taken as a message to autocratic leader Robert Mugabe to retire. Mugabe, now 94, was forced from the presidency by members of his own party in 2017 and replaced by his former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Paul Mangwana, a senior official with Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF 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.
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. Tsvangirai is a Zimbabwean pro-democracy leader who opposed Mugabe.
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.
His rollicking, captivating performances won him devoted fans. He sang, played guitar and danced while directing a tight band of guitarists, keyboards, percussionists and dancers who seamlessly performed his catchy songs. He made several successful international tours and performed in South Africa late last year.
Mtukudzi wrote songs in a style that were a mix of Zimbabwean and neighboring South African rhythms that became known at “Tuku music.”
Mtukudzi was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 22, 1952 and enjoyed his first burst of popularity with the band Wagon Wheels in the late 1970s.
A complete list of survivors was not immediately available, but he reportedly had a fraught personal life, with at least one of his daughters, entertainer Selmor Mtukudzi, calling him a neglectful father. One of his sons, musician Sam Mtukudzi, died in a car accident in 2010.
@DavidColtart. Rest in peace Oliver Mtukudzi. If anyone ever made me proud to be Zimbabwean, it was you. Thank you for making us happy for so long, especially during the darkest days.
@morganheritage. We were privileged to share the stage with the great Tuku and have the honour of meeting him in person. He was a giant of a musician and very humble at the same time. We pray the legacy of this great musician lives on forever. Our prayers go out to the family of Oliver Mtukudzi.
@PeterWamae. So sad to hear the loss of this amazing African legend. I was much on listening to his songs lately, especially Neria. Though I could not understand the language of his songs, his voice and tone could speak clearly and understood to the soul. RIP legend.
@advocatemahere. Rest in peace Oliver Mtukudzi. You were the sound track to an entire generation and a rare gift to Zimbabwe. We will always love you, a legend and hero.
@amoskiyingi. Really saddened by the news of the passing of the legendary Oliver Mtukudzi. Every time he came to Uganda, he put on a great show. Aside from the music, I am greatly inspired by his social responsibility in raising awareness about HIV/Aids among youth when no one could.
@SilentVoicesUg. We would like to send our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and fans of legendary musician Oliver Mtukudzi, who taught us that music has no boundaries or language. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world.
Kenneth Kimuli aka Pablo: I will forever cherish the night we shared a stage. I was privileged to invite you to work the crowd and indeed you never disappointed. They loved you to bits and in death we will always love you. RIP my friend Oliver Mtukudzi.
@mosesmpapa. It is a great loss not only to Zimbabwe but to the African continent and the world at large. May his soul rest in peace.