by Mike Telin

Mtukudzi-OliverIt’s the people that keep me going. As long as there are people there is something to talk about and if there’s something to talk about then there’s something to sing about,” legendary guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Oliver Mtukudzi told us by telephone from his home in Zimbabwe. “My inspiration comes from the people. The way we live, our personal experiences and what I see around me.”

So it was no surprise when the soft-spoken 60 year-old musician says that he and his five-member band are looking forward to their performance in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ames Family Atrium on Friday, April 5th beginning at 9:00 pm. The Tuku Dance Party — Mr. Mtukudzi is affectionately called “Tuku” by his fans — is presented as part of the Museum’s VIVA! & Gala series. “The performance will be a big party and that will be very nice,” Mtukudzi chuckles.

Arguably one of the most powerful and creative forces in the Afro-pop scene for the past three decades, Mtukudzi says he started singing as a young boy. “According to my mother I started singing at a very tender age. My parents were also musicians and although I didn’t study music I had a passion for creating my own songs and my own music.”

Mtukudzi’s music is best described as a mix of hypnotic guitar lines (the guitar was his first instrument), percussive beats, and the African thumb piano. “I love this instrument. It is fascinating and all my music I adapt from it to my guitar.” The language of his songs is Shona, his mother tongue. “It originated in the southern part of Africa and it’s a language that came out of Swahili, which is mainly spoken in eastern Africa.”

In addition to his performing career, Oliver Mtukudzi devotes much of his time to his passion: identifying and developing the artistic talents in people at the community level. 2003 saw the opening of the Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton, Zimbabwe, 45 kilometers west of Harare. The center provides young musicians with resources to develop their talents under the tutelage of specialist artists including composers, sound and lighting engineers, producers, guitarists, drummers, stage and film actors. University students are attached to the center for practical experience. The center’s areas of specialization include storytelling, music, script-writing, dance, poetry and drama.

To see and hear exactly why Oliver Mtukudzi has attracted packed houses at venues around the world from the Barbican in London to the Millennium Park in Chicago, watch a video of his recent performance at GlobalFest 2013 in New York City’s Webster Hall.

Published on April 2, 2013

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