Musician Oliver Mtukudzi Digs Deep In 'Sarawoga'

At 60, Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi now has more albums to his name than birthdays. His latest, Sarawoga, is an emotional response to the death of his son. Mtukudzi joins guest host Celeste Headlee in studio for a special performance chat.

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

The holiday season is about enjoying time with family. And of course bringing joy to others. But that’s Oliver Mtukudzi’s mission all year long. Through his music he’s brought his country Zimbabwe into the homes and hearts of people all over the world. Oliver Mtukudzi, or Tuku, has played his own signature Tuku music since Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia. His music goes beyond language. Like his timeless hit, “Neria” - meaning widow - a song about the pain of losing a loved one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NERIA")

HEADLEE: It was also pain and loss that drove him to create his latest album "Sarawoga," which means left alone. It's his first recorded offering since his son and fellow band member, Sam, was killed in a car accident in 2010. Oliver Mtukudzi is now here in studio for a special performance chat and to tell us more about his album. I began by asking him if he could perform the title track of the album, “Sarawoga.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SARAWOGA")

HEADLEE: I mean, I have to tell you, I'm sure anyone who hears this - this song is such a cry from the heart. I mean, it's so personal. I don't understand a word of the language. I read the translation, but it's still - the sound of it is so piercing. It just pierces you when you hear it. How do you approach a song that is so very personally intimate? I mean, how do you bring yourself to the point where you're able to share that with 10,000 people?

OLIVER MTUKUDZI: Well, I think it's just that I mean what I'm saying. It's no joke. It's not a composition. It's a personal feeling. I mean what I'm saying - that I'm left on my own.

HEADLEE: You know, I read what you said, that this is the first recording since your son passed away. But you've been performing, I mean, a crazy schedule of performing live, and you had said that it was like therapy for you. How did that work?

MTUKUDZI: Well, I think because my son was more a friend than a son. We were both musicians. We worked together. We've traveled together. We've written songs together, and the only way to console myself is to keep on doing what we love doing most, instead of sitting down and cry and moan. I think it would have killed me, but if I went back on stage and did what we did, would at least make me feel satisfied or get satisfaction out of that than sitting down and just think of him. I was trying to celebrate the 21 years I've had with them.

HEADLEE: How long after his death did you write "Sarawoga"?

MTUKUDZI: Well, it was after two years, I think. Yeah, it was two years and I never really wrote much songs soon after his death, but I performed what I had performed with him. I performed more shows than the way I used to before his passing on. Getting to write a song, it took me almost two years to try and start thinking of - 'cause I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what - you know.

HEADLEE: In the album's notes, you wrote this - after the pride of performing with my son in a story, a story to bring fathers and their sons close, I am left alone with no proof to show how a father and son could be. I mean, obviously, the proof of how a father and son could be is, to a certain extent, in the music itself, right?

MTUKUDZI: True, but I'm not sure whether people understand what it meant to be able to perform with your own son, doing the same job, doing what you love doing most, both of you. I don't think people will get to understand the depth of the love that's in the art world.

HEADLEE: We're hearing an encore performance chat with Zimbabwean musical legend Oliver Mtukudzi. Please stay with us as we take a short break. When we come back, we'll hear more music from the man who now has 61 albums to his credit. And in the meantime, let's just hear a little more of "Neria" on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NERIA")

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