SIXTY-two albums since he released his debut single in 1975, Oliver Mtukudzi has served as global musical ambassador for restraint, tolerance and peace.
Along with Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mtukudzi — also known as “Tuku” — is one of the most successful African recordings artists in North America, having sold hundreds of thousands of records on Putumayo, Heads Up/Telarc and Sheer Sound.
He brings his five-person group The Black Spirits to the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30.
Mtukudzi also will be in residence for two days as part of Dartmouth College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
With a career that began before Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980, Mtukudzi helped propel the Afropop and African roots music scene with quicksilver guitar work, a keen ear for melody and a deep, gutsy voice. He’s backed by a band that blends traditional and contemporary instruments and styles while honoring the modal threads of Zimbabwean roots music.
Still, Mtukudzi’s enduring popularity owes in large part to his lyricism, which has voiced his advocacy against violence and hatred, and more recently focuses on childhood and aging, respect and hope, women’s rights and AIDS, community and connection. (A member of Zimbabwe’s Korekore ethnic group, he sings in Shona, Ndebele and English.)
Mtukudzi’s fame grew in 1977 when he joined Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Their single “Dzandimomotera” went gold and Mtukudzi’s first album followed. He also was a contributor to Mahube, a southern African supergroup. In 1979 he launched a solo career with The Black Spirits, establishing himself as producer, arranger, songwriter and lead singer. His music evolved and introduced traditional musical instruments, such as the mbira and marimba in place of keyboards and electric guitar, while retaining his trademark acoustic guitar and the electric bass.
His 62nd album is titled “Mukombe we Mvura (A Calabash of Water).”
Mtukudzi also ventured into the worlds of film and drama, starring in “Jit” and “Neria” (for which he also wrote the soundtrack), and then write and directed the musical production “Was My Child,” which dealt with the plight of Zimbabwe’s street children. Meanwhile, he continued to perform regularly with The Black Spirits and maintained his prodigious output of recorded music, with shows including WOMAD in the UK, New York City’s globalFEST and the KCRW World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.Advertisement
In 2011, he was named Zimbabwe’s first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa.