Memories of Tuku

Memories of Tuku

HE was ours and we were his. Our Tuku. His countrymen. We could squabble about the colour of the sky and the taste of water. Brawl about sanctions, elections and diamond billions.
But about him we mostly agreed. He was our star. Our icon.

To his music we bumjived despite our differences. We like to personalise things, we Zimbabweans.
My people, my prophet, my leader, my land, my clan, my party, my spiritual father, my, my, my, my and my. None owned Tuku.

The graduate with perforated pockets in Zengeza played his music just like the potbellied boss in Borrowdale. Pickpockets and real looters thronged his shows. They played him in mud huts in Mavungwe and opulent, if not obscene, houses in Greystone Park.

In poverty and in riches we reached for his melodies.
The only leader about whom we were not divided. His sound, the only ‘ideology’ we discussed without being polarized. His talent compelled us to share him with a world that embraced him.
We were broke but Tuku we could share with everyone.

For the last two decades of his life Zimbabweans had to queue in the same line with the rest of the world for a chance to watch him play. He hadn’t outgrown the national borders or become haughty but he was so good that his music could not be confined to a country.

And so he traversed the world while those of us who knew his humble beginnings marveled at how he remained grounded despite his stupendous fame.

It’s March 2009, nine months since I landed in Maseru. I am at a car wash for my ramshackle’s weekly bath. Out of its shrieking radio comes one of Tuku’s classics, Strange isn’t it?
Mese-mese munoziva Gwenyambira ndichipanga mazano wani/ tese-tese tinoziva Gwenyambira ndichipanga mazano wani/ Strange isn’t it?/ How people talk about subjects they don’t understand/ …music man’s message is for the nation/…It’s the truth he tells, no fairytale.”

“Who is that singing?” asks a man whose sekorokoro is ahead of mine.
“It’s Oliver,” I say.
“Oh, Mtukudzi. From Zimbabwe, right?” He ends the name with a “dziii!” I nod and watch him lightly shake to the beat. A persistent man, he pleads until I surrender my CD. We became friends. We still are. It was Tuku’s doing.
It is winter 2013 and I am tempting the law by doing 135 in a 120 zone on N1. A plump policewoman appears out of nowhere to wave to the left cheek of the road.

“Come check your speed on the camera Baba,” she says. “No need for that, I know I was doing 135. I am sorry officer,” I say, fretting at the prospect of a heavy fine I could not afford.
And so negotiations begin.

“How much do you have?” “I have nothing.” “So we take you to the station?” “But I am rushing to a meeting.” “Ah, that’s your problem not mine.” “I know officer but.” “I give you a fine and you go.” “But I don’t have the money?” “So how much do you have?”
“Just enough for the last tollgate.”
We haggle on until her eyes suddenly lit. “And whose music is that?”

She is asking about Tuku’s song that has been a soft soundtrack to our negotiation that is about to take a sharp turn to the unholy territory.
“It’s Mtukudzi,” I say, happy for a lull to rework my route out of the ticket. “Yah, that one! I love him,” she says.
There it was: my ticket out of a ticket.

“You want it?” I ask, sensing a weakness. “Yes, Baba, if you want you can give me.”
I pull out the CD and hand it to her. She admires it as I fearfully await her return to the reason she is leaning into my window.

But it seems she has moved on to a more interesting subject. She wants to chat about Tuku. “So you know him?” “Yes”. “I hear he comes to South Africa all the time.” “Yes”. “So he sings Shona?” “Yes, but sometimes English and sometimes Ndebele.”
I will not ask about the ticket. And I am praying she doesn’t either. Eventually I hang my head on the shoulder and say: “Can you please allow me to go officer?”

A little-lecture-about-speeding later I was back on the road. One Tuku CD poorer but a massively relieved man. It was Tuku’s doing.
One day in 2006 or 2007 or thereabouts we cobbled our bearer’s cheques with a friend, Darlington, until we had enough to pay for Tuku’s show at Harare international Conference Centre. Inside, we slowly nursed our few beers until Tuku started singing Ndakuneta.

It had been less than two hours since we parted with our precious cabbage and this man was already saying goodbye.
It wasn’t the briefness of the show that hurt me. I had swallowed a small portion of my rent. Recklessness? Well, some might see it as passion for music. I am with them.

We see things differently most of the time. Yet, I know not of a soul that is not hurt by Tuku’s passing. On that one we are together. Go well Tuku.

Mugari is the editor of thepost

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