Nhava | Carrying Bag is guitarist/songwriter Oliver Mtukudzi's debut album of Zimbabwean tunes for Heads Up's Africa Series. Like a satchel containing a journey man's essentials, Nhava's lyrics cover "advice, encouragement and wisdom for travelers on the journey of life as they make their way through an often perilous world." Tuku's career as the eldest of seven siblings whose father died prematurely spans by now more than 45 recordings. In 1979, he had joined the group Wagon Wheels featuring Thomas Mapfumo who since has been so thoroughly banned for his outspoken lyrics in Zimbabwe that his new album Rise Up will be exclusively distributed via Internet downloads from CalabashMusic.com, accompanied by the $99 Mapfumo Files download package of 130 earlier songs.
After his stint with Wagon Wheels, Mtukudzi founded The Black Spirits whose album Africa in the wake of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 became a watershed event. For the next seventeen years, Tuku would release two albums a year, leading to the coinage of Tuku music to distinguish his style from other Zimbabwean forms like jiti, mbira and mbaqanga. The 1998 Africa Fete tour saw him perform with Taj Mahal, Toumani Diabate and Baaba Maal in the US and Canada and was followed with the album Paipevo which reached the top of his native charts within a week of its November 1999 release.
Mtukudzi also actively participates in film and theater, having contributed music for more than twenty AIDS-related documentaries as well as the BBC's music productions Under the African Skies and The Soul of the Mbira. In 1990, he played the lead in Jit, a film sporting an all-Zimbabwean cast and followed this a year later with a prominent role in Neria, a woman's right drama for which he also furnished the soundtrack.
Zimbabwe websites have been buzzing over the impending release of Nhava on the eve of Zimbabwe's parliamentary election March 31 despite the artist's long stance against using his art for political activism, instead concentrating on universal themes common to all nationalities anywhere, anytime. In a recent press release, Mtukudzi commented as follows: "I wish to place on record and make absolutely clear that I am not a ZANU (PF) supporter. I am a loyal Zimbabwean who believes in a true and tolerant democracy. As a musician, I have been appalled that the Government has used its monopoly of the airwaves to restrict airplay of artists who they see as unsupportive of its policies. People who do not promote the government's image are often seen as being enemies of the government and attempts are made to silence them or undermine their careers. This is a gross abuse of human rights, so many of which have been violated in order to secure the government's grasp on power. Most distressing is that the government has denied numerous Zimbabweans in the Diaspora their democratic right to vote.
Zimbabwe is a deeply divided society. The political divide often cuts across family loyalties and ties, placing individuals in an impossibly difficult position. Family and political loyalties may conflict and create underlying personal tension, which in my case, has been exploited to try to portray my political morality as being other than it is. Various subterfuges have been used. A request to sing a few solo songs at what I understood would be a private gathering of relatives was turned into a ZANU (PF) event, and, without warning or permission, filmed and broadcast. It is like an American Democratic Party supporter being asked to sing happy birthday to his Republican brother and suddenly finding the event being used in a Republican Party campaign ad.
Furthermore, I understand that one of my songs "Totutuma" has just been used, again without my permission, to promote a ZANU (PF) event in a manner that suggested I would be performing at the event or that the event had my support. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that this is a deliberate strategy to undermine my popularity as a singer, and to prevent my songs from being used as a rallying point for those who believe in a true and tolerant democracy. However, I hope that my fans are, by now, wise to such cynical manipulation, which so seriously undermines our collective belief in a better Zimbabwe. In return for my fans' loyalty, the band and I hope to put on unforgettable shows in our impending UK tour."
Listen to Nhava now to find out what the buzz is all about. If you can resist the infectious melody and refrain of "Tiregereiwo", check your pulse to make it's still beating. From burbling rhythms to gentle call-and-answer exchanges, find out why Bonnie Raitt has called Tuku a cross between soul daddy Otis Redding and Reggae prince Toots Hibbert.