Mtukudzi aka Tuku was guest of honour at the silver jubilee celebrations of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) which is the national arts and culture management body directly under the government.
Among the politicians present were Zanu (PF) lawmaker and minister Walter Mzembi, MDC-T legislator and minister Nelson Chamisa including several politburo members and Central Committee heavyweights from the former ruling party such as Victoria Chitepo once information minister and widow of nationalist Herbert Chitepo.
Tuku opened his speech with the usual niceties about Zimbabwe’s music before going head-on for the politicians with a brief but blazing oration.
“We the artists are above you the politicians because you don’t represent all the people of Zimbabwe. Politicians are partisan and they serve partisan interests while artists serve everyone including yourselves (politicians). So please do your job and provide the NACZ with funding to enable us to uplift our national flag and after that you can go and fight amongst yourselves and that’s none of our business,” Tuku said to standing ovation from at least 700 guests attending the silver jubilee party by invitation only.
The politicians could not help it but to join the auditorium in standing ovation and clapping their hands sheepishly.
Radio VOP later spoke exclusively to Tuku on why he chose the occasion to address political issues.
“I didn’t choose to speak at the occasion, I was chosen to speak. So I had to speak my mind. I was simply saying as artists we want to see more common sense amongst our politicians and ministers. And when the opposing politicians and activists decide to fight then they are free to do so but only after serving national interest first,” Tuku told Radio VOP.
Tuku (58), now with 59 albums to his credit in a career spanning over 35 years, has rarely addressed political issues publicly or sung the more hard hitting or confrontational music rather preferring indirect lyrical satire and metaphor unlike his peer Thomas “Tafirenyika” Mapfumo who has told Zimbabwe’s geriatric President Robert Mugabe to go.
So when Tuku spoke at the NACZ party he caught everyone entirely by surprise.
“I address politicians every day in my music. My music does not select but addresses everyone including the politician. My music educates, it mentors and preaches tolerance, dignity, the respect for human rights and love. If the ministers and other politicians felt embarrassed by my speech, then I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to embarrass them, I meant to educate them.”
Because Tuku has avoided direct politics he has remained largely more of an enigma politically but Zimbabwe’s authorities have always understood some of his songs to be directed at the 86-year-old President Mugabe and his repressive rule.
Once, a stage lighting engineer for Tuku was arrested in Harare after he focused a beam of lights on President Mugabe’s life-size portrait at the government owned formerly Harare International Conference Centre when Tuku was performing the song Bvuma (Tolerance) which implores aged people to accept old age.
The state spy police, who were attending the show, immediately arrested the engineer. The song was banned on the country’s sole radio and television station the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Other critical music by artists like Leonard Zhakata, Mapfumo, Hosiah Chipanga and many others depicting the country’s intolerant rulers have also been banned.
But the authorities have never been short of their own cheerleaders especially amongst the young crop of musicians recruited and paid handsomely to sing glorifying President Mugabe as a messiah.
Ahead of the expected elections next year state radio is already awash with propaganda music, poetry and drama sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Publicity as a way of countering all stubborn music lampooning President Mugabe in power for 30 straight years since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain.