His songs were thought-provoking; his influence cut across borders.
Kenyans joined the world in mourning one of the greatest musicians in Africa, Zimbabwean Oliver Mtukudzi, who died on Wednesday.
His music career spanned more than four decades and produced 67 albums.
Mtukudzi’s influence stretched beyond Zimbabwe, making him an African icon.
Yesterday, Suzanna Owiyo, who worked with Mtukudzi in Nairobi last February, was among the artistes and fans mourning the musician, whom she described as a friend and a longtime colleague.
“Africa has lost an icon and a legend with one of the most unique voices,” said Owiyo.
Mtukudzi accompanied Owiyo to Kisumu and performed with her at Acacia Hotel, where she was promoting her music.
“Oliver’s music was about shining light and providing hope to his fans in Zimbabwe and beyond,” she said.
A music scholar described Mtukudzi as the foremost popular Zimbabwean musician ever born.
“I had hoped to work with him in some music reflecting on issues afflicting Africans today,” said Philip Mbinji, the director of Coast Chorus Music Academy in Mombasa.
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga also took to twitter to send his condolences.
“Your question-rendered in lyrics: “What Shall We Do?” May still have no answer. We will miss your enthralling performances and salute you. Rest in Peace Oliver Mtukudzi,” tweeted Raila.
He was referring to the lyrics of one of Mtukudzi’s hit songs, Todii, which was popular with his Kenyan fans.
In an interview in Nairobi in February last year, Mtukudzi said Todii was not popular in Zimbabwe.
“I don’t know why but I suspect it is because many people outside Zimbabwe may not have understood the message,” he had said jokingly in his characteristic soft voice and subtle humour.
Mtukudzi’s songs were laden with subtle social messages. During his last visit to Kenya last year, Mtukudzi was accompanied by his wife, Daisy. He said he was working on a new album, Conscience.
He said explained that he had named the album Conscience because people were fast forgetting the importance of human relations and had opted for unending competition instead.
“Today everyone is competing against each other, brother against brother, sister against sister, neighbour against neighbour, and colleague against colleague to no end.”
His music lamented against diminishing value systems and endorsed a return to warm human relations.
“Humans exist to love, to express, to offer company and to relate, but this is threatened in a society that is just too keen to better the other,” he said.
Mtukudzi has carved a name for himself as Africa’s musical voice, a true believer in the continent’s hidden treasures.
“There’s more to Mama Africa than poverty, and war I wish we had a fighting chance to show off who we are,” he sang in Twende Twende, a collaboration with Kenya’s Eric Wainaina.
Online, his fans criticised local radio and TV stations for ignoring Mtukudzi’s music.
“Now they are playing the only song they know (Todii),” posted Afro-fusion musician Ohanglaman Makadem.
Mtukudzi’s other songs include Nakuvara, Neria featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ndgara Nhaka, and Into Yami featuring Madlingozi.