March 7th, 2008
As we walk through life, each of us leaves a unique mark on the world. “No foot, no footprint,” (Tsimba itsoka) the proverbial phrase that titles this release, expresses this idea and serves to conceptually link the various tracks on Oliver Mtukudzi’s latest offering. This singer/guitarist/composer uses poetry, proverbs, and philosophy to create the lyrical melodic lines that are heard atop powerful Afro-pop grooves.
Through his unique blend of jazz, reggae, blues, and indigenous elements, Mtukudzi is not afraid to explore the darker side of the human experience with songs that tackle subjects such as rape, gambling, jealousy, and crime. With each song Mtukudzi re-articulates the question “What kind of footprint will you leave?” Like many other musicians in communities throughout Africa, Mtukudzi offers moral lessons for his listeners through his socially conscious lyrics. Overall, Mtukudzi cautions his listeners to step carefully through life to avoid the traps and pitfalls that others have had the misfortune to fall into. Although the songs are sung mostly in the artist’s native language of Shona (found primarily in Zimbabwe), listeners will be able to connect with each track’s lyrics, because the liner notes provide an English translation of the meaning of each composition. Moreover, the universal themes of the songs, coupled with the laid back grooves driven by Mtukudzi’s hypnotic guitar style, will resonate with a wide variety of listeners.
Oliver Mtukudzi, better known to his fans simply as “Tuku,” has had a remarkable impact on Zimbabwean popular music over the past four decades with his more than 45 recordings. After gaining some notoriety within Zimbabwe for his song “Stop Before Go” in 1975, Mtukudzi joined the Wagon Wheels, where he had the opportunity to perform with this country’s most popular music star – Thomas Mapfumo. Although Tuku’s first single with the band (“Dzandimomotera”) went gold, he left shortly thereafter to pursue a solo career. He formed the band the Black Spirits, which earned a gold record for their first release in 1979. The following year, as Zimbabwe was celebrating its newly won independence, the group released the recording Africa, which became one of the most important albums of its time. Its two hit singles “Zimbabwe” and “Mazongonyedze” captured the jubilant mood of the nation, and launched the Black Spirits into the spotlight. Subsequently, the Black Spirits produced two albums a year until 1998, when Mtukudzi started to release albums under his own name. His record Tuku Music launched the musician into the global music scene, receiving acclaim not only in South Africa and Zimbabwe, but reaching audiences as far as the UK, the US, and Asia.
Following this success, Tuku embarked on a worldwide tour with African music stars Baaba Maal, Toumani Diabate, and Taj Mahal. Riding this wave of popularity, his next album, Paipevo (1999), quickly climbed the Zimbabwean music charts. In 2005, Mtukudzi joined the Heads Up label and produced Nhava. Similar to his latest release, this album features Tuku’s graceful guitar work along with poetic, proverbial, and philosophical lyrics that pose moral questions to his audiences.
Posted by Paul Schauert
Review Genre(s): World Music