Oliver Mtukudzi,
The Oliver Mtukudzi Collection:
The Tuku Years

(Putumayo, 2003)

The liner notes to this Oliver Mtukudzi collection point out that this Zimbabwean artist has been performing and recording for more than 25 years. So no single disc could hope to present a comprehensive overview of Mtukudzi's expansive career. The CD covers only the years since Tuku, as Mtukudzi is affectionately known in his homeland, first teamed up with South African producer Steve Dyer in 1998. Since then the pair have collaborated on seven albums, but only a couple of these have been released outside southern Africa.

This is a wonderful assortment of music that, through its interwoven layers of guitar and vocal tracks, blends a completely modern sound with southern African musical traditions. Dyer keeps the studio vocals slightly raw, which adds tremendously to the passion conveyed in songs like "Ngoromera" and "Ndakuvara." And Tuku has the kind of voice, with its Belafonte-like rasp, that can deliver both at a whisper ("Wake Up") and a wail ("Hear Me Lord"). And much like Harry Belafonte, or Nat "King" Cole, Tuku has a voice that speaks to people "from all walks of life and strata of society."

Another strength of this album is the fact that Dyer's production and Mtukudzi's arrangements tend to keep the keyboards in the background. This allows the wonderfully rhythmic guitar work of Mtukudzi, Philani Dube and Albert Kapondoro to be the dominant musical personality supporting the vocals. When the keyboards do move forward in the mix, as in "Kunze Kwadoka" and "Shanda," I inevitably find the song weaker. I don't hear the same emotional punch emanating from the electronic keyboards employed in these songs that I hear elicited from the guitars on other tracks.

But rising above even the weaker, keyboard dominated arrangements are Tuku's melodies and his vocal delivery. And these make this collection particularly memorable. There are only two songs here with lyrics I can understand and yet I'm drawn in emotionally track after track. Let's hope that Dyer and Tuku continue to collaborate and that their work finds a sufficiently large audience in North America to ensure that the resulting albums are released on this continent.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 20 December 2003

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