Oliver Mtukudzi, the Zimbabwean born and world acclaimed afro-pop and contemporary artiste, may have died in 2019 after amassing a massive 60 plus album discography but his life is set to take a new twist as he finally gets celebrated in an upcoming fast paced, witty and sometimes heartbreaking book by Zimbabwean journalist and author Robert Mukondiwa.
While there have been other books about Mtukudzi most notably one scathing one by his former publicist and another academic look at his music by an American critique, very little has been written and certainly nothing to celebrate his larger than life prowess that made him an African icon and cultural ambassador.
The book entitled ‘Oliver Mtukudzi and me-A Life In Song And Media’, which is set to be released by the fourth quarter of this year, carries many behind the scenes never been spoken attributes of Oliver Mtukudzi presenting him as a father, friend, foe, and a lot more attributes that leave one endeared to him years after his death.
It is especially intriguing that the story is told by a journalist whom, over close to two decades reporting on mainly arts issues in Zimbabwe, had many close calls with the late artiste not least of all being one of the writers who broke the controversial scandal that blighted his career of an affair with a band member yet went on to become one of the writers Oliver trusted with fair analysis as well as very private glimpses into his life.
Opening with an encounter back in 1994, the writer not only offers a comprehensive story of Oliver Mtukudzi, but life in Zimbabwe in general, race relations, the post-independence world under Robert Mugabe, as well as the challenges of being a journalist in Zimbabwe.
He tells a story of betrayal as he gives us a tour in his mind and personal struggles. How he celebrated Oliver Mtukudzi and was conflicted when information fell on their lap that he and a co-journalist Garikai Mazara both could not ignore yet they knew the story had the potential to destroy a man who was arguably Zimbabwe’s most loved musician.
What the book becomes is a story written in perhaps the most powerful Zimbabwean storyteller of his generation, his wit is unmatched and his honesty and openness about both himself and his private world working near some of the biggest names in the African arts industry is a centerpiece of this fine work.
Reading excerpts of the book, one gets the same vibe, wit, poignancy that you get reading the Trevor Noah blockbuster ‘Born A Crime’ as it often makes fun of otherwise very serious and painful subjects. Amongst these are issues of race relations as well as growing up as a young black boy in post-independence Zimbabwe where previously marginalised voices like that of Mtukudzi were beginning to find their voice and space on freshly liberated airwaves.
While his first book, The Judas Files, was a work of fiction and remarkably dark, there are tonnes of beautifully told light stories in this book that will leave you rethinking African life in general and Zimbabwean life in particular.
Maybe it was about time someone told a story of Oliver Mtukudzi’s private moments, thoughts, and anecdotes he told about how he made music. His legacy cannot only be contained in a negative book and academic approach alone; for a man who played at world acclaimed festivals including Coachella, Womad and countless other international festivals, his story no doubt had to be immortalized in the written word as it is in music.
Reading excerpts from this book gives you the momentum of following it at the pace of a movie. You cannot help but get the feeling that it is works such as this that will one day make their way onto the big screen as film adaptations as the story of African film starts to grow amongst especially African storytellers and the rise of more platforms like Netflix.
In much like the Fela Kuti biopic ‘Finding Fela’, writer Robert Mukondiwa shows us that there are many strong stories in the arts like that which he tells of Oliver Mtukudzi, that are worth making in celebration of continental heroes of the arts.
According to the project [publicist, September and November are slated as possible months of the official world release of ‘Oliver Mtukudzi and Me, A Life In Song and Media’.