On this page, Sekuru Chigamba offers his reflections on Oliver Mtukudzi’s personal history and musical legacy, with special focus on his ties to Zimbabwe’s rural northeast.
A Child of Dande
Tuku’s family comes from Dande, they are the people of Changachirere. Yes, they came from Dande, in the Zambezi Valley. Long ago, all those whose totem was Nzou Samanyanga used to live in Dande. Some lived in Muzarabani, but it was part of Dande.
Our ancestor was the ruler of that place. So he is the one who declared this area to be Dandemutande, extending from Hunyani along the entire Zambezi Valley, and up to Mozambique. He is the one who called it Dandemutande, meaning that it is all-encompassing, it is a valley that stretches as far as Mozambique. It it like a spiderweb. So there is a river called Dande, which is close to Guruve. So, people didn’t end up adopting the name Dandemutande; they were shortening it, and simply saying Dande. But that is a river, Dande is a river. So to say Dande is to shorten the word, to cut it off. But the entire region is properly Dandemutande.
So they left Dande, which is in Lower Guruve, and then they came to live in Upper Guruve, in Nyangavi. Yes, in a place called Nyangavi. If we are coming from Guruve, going down on the western side, we cross a small stream called the Shinje. Going up, we arrive in a place called Nyangavi. That is the place where they were living, because rain was a problem in Dande. Because of rainfall, people from Dande kept coming to Guruve in search of food. So they realized, “If we stay here our families will perish of hunger,” and they then moved to Guruve, where plenty of rain falls. Then they were living here, farming.
And then they moved to Madziva. So Madziva is where they are living now, on the way to Mount Darwin. But most of their relatives are still in Guruve. That is where they came from, before they went to Madziva. That is where Tuku’s father came from. He used to work here in Harare, living in Old Highfield.
Mtukudzi’s Songs are Traditional Songs
His songs are ones that we sing, that are played on ngoma drums. But when we are holding our ceremonies, performing rituals, we don’t introduce the guitar. There, will be playing the true ngoma drums. The song will be played on drums, yes.
So that is how he orchestrated things, because he didn’t throw tradition away. He didn’t lose his customs, he always kept his traditional culture. He wants to preserve it. Because just as you are asking me now, if it is about culture, you will hear someone explaining exactly how things are, just like I am telling you now. And then you know that it concerns ritual. So that is how things stand. All of his songs are part of traditional culture.
“Rova Ngoma Mutavara” (Play the drum, Mutavara)
If we take those songs that he plays, like “Rova Ngoma Mutavara,” they are played on the ngoma drums. So he took them and put them on guitar, but he is still singing them in a traditional way. There is no difference; he is singing traditional songs. Now, putting it on guitar means that whether young or elderly, everyone can listen to his music. Because if he sings “Rova Ngoma Mutavara,” I refer back to ngoma drums. And then for a young child, when he is singing “Rova Ngoma Mutavara” and playing guitar, a young child will be excited by the guitar.
So he took everyone and united them, because if he plays for elders, they will enjoy themselves. If he plays for youth, they will enjoy themselves. Yes, that is what he did in singing those traditional songs. All of the songs that he sings, the majority of them are played on ngoma. To the extent that in Guruve we also sing “Rova Ngoma Mutavara.”
“Rova Ngoma Mutavara” is played to a style of drumming known as mangwingwindo. On ngoma drums, some call it dandanda, others say mangwingwindo, and others say dinhe, but it is the same type of drumming. It depends on the area where people live. If we go to Chiweshe, they say dandanda. If we go to Guruve, they say mangwingwindo. If we go to Mashonaland West, to Hurungwe, they say dinhe. But it is the same ngoma. When they sing, they sing the same way, and the ngoma is played the same way. There’s no difference. Of all of Tuku’s songs, so many are played on dandanda, mangwingwindo, and dinhe.
“Bwanyamakaka” (A threatening elder)
Sekuru Chigamba plays “Bwanyamakaka” on the mbira dzavadzimu
“Bwanyamakaka” is also played on mangwingwindo, or on dandanda, or on dinhe. “Bwanyamakaka” is someone who comes along acting threatening, or we might call it intimidation, but that isn’t that serious. It makes people scared to ask for what they need, because you are the elder. When you come, you come threatening those under you, so they will not feel free to ask for what they need. You have intimidated them. So now your juniors find an indirect way of expressing themselves. They won’t want to come out into the open and tell you what you have done. Instead they sing you a song. “You, elder, you are excessive, elder, you are a bwanyamakaka.” So you will realize, “Oh, I’ve made a mistake here, haven’t I? In coming here, I’ve erred. So these children are now telling me that I have made a mistake. Yes, erring against young children.” That is how it goes. So, our songs, they speak, they teach. For the most part they teach, and they reprimand. They way they correct you, they will let you know you have made a mistake. But it comes from the song, as it is being sung.
“Dzoka Uyamwe” (Return and suckle)
There are other songs in which he speaks to what is happening in a place, in a community, speaking out through songs that educate people. What he talks about teaches people how they should behave. Like “Dzoka Uyamwe,” because Tuku, as a person who has spent a long time in Madziva without returning to see those people who stayed behind in Dande, he is saying, “I think of Dande, and I will return there to find a new spirit.” All of the ancestral spirits are there in Dande, so they will bless him in everything he does.
It doesn’t mean you will go back to nurse, to find your mother and nurse. It is an idiom meaning that you have spent too much time in another place, and you must return home for your ancestral spirits to see you. That is what he is referring to as being suckled. Because if your mother’s ancestral spirits are there, or your father’s ancestral spirits are there, you must also go, and be given a new spirit, and you will go with a good spirit. When you arrive in your ancestral home, the ancestral spirits say, “Oh, you have returned home,” and they appreciate you and enjoy you, saying, “Oh, our child is recognizing us.” So, when you go back, you will have new blessings.