Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe

By Jennifer W. Kyker | Go to book overview

TWO
Performing the Nation’s History

On a Saturday night in May 2008, shortly after the Harare International Festival of the Arts, the rich strains of Mtukudzi’s tenor voice rang out in the cavernous hall of the Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex. A hulking cement structure built in 1995, the complex sits in the sprawling, high-density municipality of Chitungwiza, where over a million people reside just within commuting distance of Harare. One of Africa’s premier swimming facilities, it once hosted world-class athletes, including Olympic gold-winner Kirsty Coventry. Yet it quickly underwent a startling decline, reflecting a more widespread collapse of the nation’s infrastructure, from streetlights and roads to schools and hospitals. Filled with algae and litter, its Olympic-sized swimming pool now lay empty, ringed by tendrils of thorny vegetation.

In a nation where improvisation had increasingly become key to survival, however, the Aquatic Complex was anything but abandoned. Instead, it had been transformed into one of the largest indoor entertainment venues in the country, playing host to crowds of thousands who gathered to immerse themselves in the soaring melodies, intricate guitar work, showy choreography, and tight vocal harmonies fashioned by artists such as Alec Macheso, Leonard Zhakata, and Nicholas Zacharia. These superstars of sungura, a genre with roots in the rhumba music of Central and Eastern Africa, had captured a lion’s share of the domestic music market in recent years.1

Capitalizing on the genre’s popularity, Mtukudzi shared the bill at the Chitungwiza Aquatic Center with two sungura singers, Sulumani Chimbetu and Tongai Moyo. In order to ensure maximum turnout, the show was scheduled for the last Friday of the month, when the dwindling number of Zimbabweans employed in the formal sector received their paychecks. Indeed, several thousand audience members had converged for this performance despite the tough economic times. Together, they participated in a familiar process of alchemy, transforming part of their earnings into shared sociality through the collective consumption of both musical and alcoholic libations.2 For many listeners, the last weekend of the month represented a sort of standing date with Mtukudzi. As one young professional described somewhat cheekily telling her mother, “Friday night at the end of the month, when Tuku is playing, don’t expect me home.”

-59-

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Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Art of Determination 3
  • One - Hwaro/Foundations 31
  • Two - Performing the Nation’s History 59
  • Three - Singing Hunhu after Independence 85
  • Four - Neria- Singing the Politics of Inheritance 109
  • Five - Return to Dande 127
  • Six - Listening as Politics 147
  • Seven - What Shall We Do?- Music, Dialogue, and HIV/AIDS 169
  • Eight - Listening in the Wilderness 203
  • Conclusion - I Have Finished My Portion of the Field 219
  • Notes 227
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 275
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