When Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi lost his son Sam in a car crash on March 15, 2010, the Zimbabwean music legend was left bereft, hurting and holding a catalogue of songs without the partner for whom he wrote them.
“Some of the pieces of music were meant to be collaborations with my son,” Tuku says, explaining that, more than two years later, he was finally able to bring those songs to life on his 61st album, Sarawoga (translation: “left alone”). Even without Sam there to join him on saxophone, guitar and/or drums, the music his son was meant to play will feature prominently in Tuku’s March 9 show at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
While much of Tuku’s music is a joyful celebration of life, Sarawoga examines and morns the losses in his life, including a brother, who died in 1978, just as Tuku’s epic career was beginning in earnest. “Coming up with the songs—that’s a difficult process,” the Afropop Hall of Famer says, recalling his work on the album.
Westhampton is just one stop on his “Greatest Hits Tour USA” that began in Washington D.C. on January 16 and concludes in Leicester, England on March 22, before Tuku returns home to Zimbabwe.
His songs are mostly in his native Shona language, with moments in English and Ndebele, but listeners will have little problem hearing the sentiment, no matter what language they speak.
“You can tell a sad song without understanding a word,” Tuku says, insisting his songs are relatable, even to the Hamptons crowd. “It is universal—Japan, America, Europe, everywhere.”
To this end, Tuku is perhaps Zimbabwe’s greatest ambassador, educating the world about his people and their country. “My music is African music,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place… We call it a world of wonders.”
The singer laments how few visit Zimbabwe, often due to preconceived ideas about his country. “It’s an experience that people should have,” Tuku says. “If only the media could come and see for [itself],” he continues, noting that his people are so much more than a “handful of politicians.”
At WHBPAC, Tuku says his show will be “dynamite.” Along with the heavier tunes from Sarawoga, such as “Watitsvata” (translation: “If You Have Done Us Good”) and “Matitsika”—both written for his son—he and The Black Spirits band will move through much of his massive catalogue, responding to the crowd and playing what fits each moment.
The show is, after all, part of his “Greatest Hits” tour, and Tuku has no shortage of music. He stands alongside world music greats, such as Hugh Masekela and Angelique Kidjo, and his songbook includes a mix of pan-African influences and cosmopolitan pop that has become his signature. The style, widely known as “Tuku Music,” even bears Mtukudzi’s world famous nickname.
“They should bring their dancing shoes,” Tuku says of the Westhampton Beach audience.
As part of their U.S. Greatest Hits Tour, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and The Black Spirits are bringing Zimbabwe’s “Merry Music from The Heart of Africa” to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is located 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Call the box office at 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org for tickets and information.