In my whole life I have cried for only four people who were not my relatives. A young boy who had the unfortunate misfortune of running into a lorry I was travelling in on my way to Chimanimani, when I was a little girl. The rest were all musicians — Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and our very own Oliver Mtukudzi. The first two reached iconic status but the tragedy of their deaths still leave a lot of questions unanswered.
But today as we commemorate the first anniversary of Oliver Mtukudzi’s death, I would like to concentrate on the business genius of this musical giant. Oliver Mtukudzi “Tuku” produced more albums than Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
I know for sure, most Zimbabweans were moved to tears when they heard the shock announcement of his death on the January 23, 2019.
I had a personal encounter with the late great Tuku at OR Tambo International Airport. He graciously signed my autograph and I had a selfie taken with him. But what I remember was his composure, and the way he listened to you. He gave me rapt attention as if everything I had said really mattered and that’s how I will always remember, his deep respect for other human beings no matter their station in life.
But though we remember Tuku’s musical genius, rarely have we analysed his business acumen. Though he was never one to be flamboyant, we know that his net worth was quite remarkable (judging by that guitar shaped swimming pool).
According to Forbes Africa, Oliver Mtukudzi was listed in the top 10 of Africa’s wealthiest musicians for 2019, though his net worth is not mentioned in the article. He certainly was also successful enough to be included among the late stars whom the 2019 Grammy Awards remembered.
So what made Tuku an astute businessman? Here we look at key characteristics that made Tuku a powerful brand.
and music brand
All those who spoke at his funeral, pointed to Tuku’s humility and how he always helped others. Despite his successes, Tuku remained accessible to many who sought his advice or just wanted to talk about life.
As we all know he had his own distinctive brand of music “Tuku Music” which was a blend of afro jazz which he infused with his traditional Korekore culture. Tuku lived his music and his stunning rural home in Madziva was a manifestation of his belief in traditional roots.
For this article I made a survey of 20 of Tuku’s songs. Each song always had a significant message. From songs on looking after widows; “Neria’ to HIV/AIDS songs such as “Todini” to urging people to respect each other’s stations “Usaseke Akwira Mumbombera”.
My most favourite “Rufu Ndimadzongonyedze” and “Seiko” are sad renditions of the pain we experience when certain occurrences such as death happen in our lives.
Tuku was not afraid to step outside his comfort zone and sang some of his songs in English. Songs such as “Street Kid” and “Hear Me Lord” are some of these songs. Some songs well, we will never understand but he sang them anyway. A song such as “Chimbambaira Chirimupoto” is one such song.
Tuku took the time to have a robust and multicultural team. Steve Dyer was his producer and Debbie Metcalfe his manager at one time. I remember vividly the advert he put in one local paper for a manager.
Judging by the stage presence in his live shows, you always felt an acute sense of togetherness among the Black Spirits. It is always important to garner loyalty from your team.
In his interview with Classic 263, Mono Mukundu, Tuku’s guitarist, pointed out that Tuku allowed his band managers to reach for the stars and he did not restrict them. Mono Mukundu said during tours, members were allowed to experience new things in the cities where they were performing. But we saw how loyal his band members were. Picky Kasamba served with the Black Spirits for 25 years and was nicknamed Oliver’s twin due to their resemblance.
Perhaps one of Oliver Mtukudzi’s greatest strengths were his various international and local collaborations with other famous musicians and groups. These collaborations included; songs performed with Hugh Masekela, Ringo, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It was some of these collaborations that catapulted him to world fame. But my favourite songs, remain his local collaborations with Garry Tight and Winky D.
Corporate social responsibility
Pakare Paye Arts Centre was built by Oliver Mtukudzi to encourage the development of the arts in the country. During his time, he groomed a number of artistes through this channel. Some of these artistes include: Mbeu, Munyaradzi Mataruse and gospel artiste Tatenda Mahachi. The centre was seen as a beacon of hope for young artistes. Tuku was also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
Market research basics
According to Mono Mukundi Tuku, often tested new songs during performances and gauged the reaction of the audiences. If these songs were well received these songs were sure included in his new album. In market research we call this Product Testing.
Tuku was a consummate professional; that means he took his profession seriously. Stage presentations were carefully planned and rehearsed with much time taken with choreography and stage outfits. Lateness was also not an option. To this end Tuku greatly respected his audience. My brother-in-law Daniel Chiwandamira always says that; keeping time is the greatest form of respect you can ever give a person. In addition, Tuku was known to practice intensely and always carried his guitar with him. To this end he made sure he delivered a quality show.
He had traceable growth path
Once I was given an assignment to compile a list of successful businesses and the remarkable stories behind them. I only managed to find one whose history I could genuinely trace. The rest of the stories came in fits and starts.
Tuku’s rise to icon status has always been there for everyone to see. His struggles as an artist, the ground-breaking career decisions, his hard work and genius we have appreciated when we are still young.
To produce 65 albums in one lifetime is a fit that cannot be achieved by many artistes. In my article “Keeping Up with Microwave Entrepreneurs” I warned against the folly of getting to the top too early and respecting the process of growth.
He had a succession plan
Tuku knew that his voice was not going to last forever nor was he going to live forever. So he trained his son to sing. In one of his interviews he, however, confessed that he tried by all means to dissuade his son to follow his footsteps by transferring him from Prince Edward to St Albert’s.
There the teachers reported to Tuku great things his son was doing in the music department. Suffice to say, Sam took his father’s route and though he had traces of his father’s music he was developing a distinct sound of his own. Selmor has also followed closely in her father’s footsteps and has been doing very well. We hear her son got his grandfather’s prized guitar. Another generation of Tuku music slowly being raised.
Classic 263 interviewed Sandra Mtukudzi and she pointed out that, though her father travelled a lot he always took the time to send them cards from whichever country he was performing. Family was deeply important to Tuku.
In conclusion, Tuku was an icon of our times and we will always remember his musical genius. I sign off with one of Tuku’s quotes from Roots Magazine.
“As long as mankind exists, there will always be something to talk about, and if there is something to talk about, there will always be something to sing about”.
Rest in Peace.
Indeed “Rufu Ndimadzongonyedze”.
Joseline Sithole is an SME Consultant and founder of Southern Africa Development Consultants (SODECO). For comments write to her on [email protected] or whats up 0773634062.