Celebrated Zimbabwean musician Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and his band, the Black Spirits, will visit Grass Valley Wednesday for a Center for the Arts performance.
Gifted with a deep, gutsy voice and a talent for writing songs that reflect on the daily life and struggles of the people of his homeland, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi is one of Zimbabwe’s greatest artists. His blending of Southern African music traditions, including mbira, mbaqanga, jit and the traditional drumming styles of the Korekore, has created such a unique sound that it has been respectfully dubbed “Tuku music.”
While Parade referred to Mtukudzi as “one of the few genuine innovators on the Zimbabwean music scene,” Prize Beat proclaimed that “his music has been instrumental in strengthening our freedom, socially, politically and economically.” Bonnie Raitt, who has recorded several of his songs, explained, “The juxtaposition of what Mtukudzi sings about and his raw, imploring, vocal reminds me of Otis Redding, Toots Hibbert and some of my favorite reggae, an odd pairing of agonizing, thorny lyrics over basically lighthearted music.”
He will share his 2012 release, “Sarawoga,” which marks his 57th recording. He will also perform greatest hits and fan favorites from his prolific song-writing career, including “Hear Me Lord” (recorded by Bonnie Raitt).
With his deep, gutsy voice, vivacious stage energy and his talent for song writing, “Tuku” has been called the spiritual father of Zimbabwe for honest capturing of the daily life and struggles of his people.
“Music is what keeps people alive especially when they are stressed and feeling low,” he said.
Fans know Mtukudzi’s distinctive style as “Tuku Music,” a blend of African traditional instruments like the mbira and marimba and his trademark acoustic guitar. Mtukudzi’s music has always been characterized by innuendos. He believes the power of art is the ability to communicate figuratively and still be understood universally.
The national icon uses his music as a healing medium to diffuse tension, and he regularly sings of love and conflict. He documents both joy and pain in his songs, and his fans find comfort in the lyrics devoted to democracy. He knows a good song is a song that touches the heart.
“A song has to give life and hope to the people,” he said in a January CNN interview.
He first began performing in 1977 and has earned a devoted following across Africa and beyond, along the way incorporating different musical traditions into his songs. A member of Zimbabwe’s Kore Kore tribe, he sings in the nation’s dominant Shona language as well as Ndebele and English.
Mtukudzi was among the first artists who came out strong to make a public commitment to support initiatives that combat HIV and AIDS. He acted in the award winning 1991 film, “Neria” (1991), about the controversies of HIV and AIDS.
The Zimbabwe government honored him as a Music Ambassador, and both the University of Zimbabwe and the Women’s University in Africa conferred him with honorary degrees in the arts. Mtukudzi founded and operates an arts academy in Norton near Harare called Pakare Paye Arts Centre.
Tuku says being a musician carries a large responsibility and that it is important for him to have a spiritual connection with his audience.
“When I’m on stage, it’s the best place to be,” he said.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at 314 W. Main St. in Grass Valley. Tickets are $15 for members, $20 for non-members and can be purchased at the Center for the Arts Box Office or at BriarPatch Co-op. For more about the artist, visit http://tukumusik.com.