HARARE: Zimbabwean musician Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, a star of Afro-jazz who won a following across the continent and beyond, died on Wednesday at the age of 66, his agent told AFP.
He passed away in a hospital in Harare, the local press reported. The cause of death was not immediately known.
The lanky self-taught guitarist was a legend in the vibrant cross-genre music of Afro-jazz, with more than 60 albums under his belt in a career that spanned 45 years.
“We’ve lost an icon,” Zimbabwean lawmaker Temba Mliswa said on Twitter.
“I’m writing to the president to make him a national hero for his national contribution to the music, arts and culture industry.”
Mtukudzi’s work — dubbed “Tuku music” — was a mixture of ethnic styles, including the Zulu-rooted mbaqanga from South Africa, and drew on diverse instruments, including Zimbabwe’s mbira, a metal-tined, hand-held instrument.
His lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.
He was rated by Forbes magazine one of Africa’s 10 most bankable artists and some experts ranked him alongside Senegal’s Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour for his innovation and influence.
He was also famed for his philanthropy and defence of human rights, and served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN children’s charity Unicef.
In an interview with AFP last March, Mtukudzi dismissed the acclaim, saying “I don’t even understand the word celebrity”.
Instead, he said, he set great store by the words of his mother, who declared he would never sing a note better than his first scream after his birth.
“It means when I was born I had already started singing. This is who I am.”