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Zimbabwean Musician Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66


Zimbabwe has lost one of its most beloved voices. His name is Oliver Mtukudzi, and he died yesterday at the age of 66. The musician was one of the few constants in a country that's been through a lot and faces an uncertain political future. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Outside Zimbabwe, Oliver Mtukudzi's style of music is described as jazz or world.


OLIVER MTUKUDZI: (Singing in foreign language).

LIMBONG: But in Zimbabwe, Mtukudzi was so big, people just refer to it by his nickname, Tuku music. It's a mix of various types of traditional Zimbabwean music blended with Western rock and pop - whatever he heard as a kid. His career began in the late 1970s, when he used that music to talk about the white minority rule in his country then known as Rhodesia.


MTUKUDZI: (Singing in foreign language).

LIMBONG: Mtukudzi told NPR in 2002 that this song was written as a message.


MTUKUDZI: If you translate it, literally, it says, hit the drum, Mutavara. Hit it hard so that everybody else can hear and can follow your tune. But the actual meaning then wasn't like, hit the drum. It was like, take your arm and fight.

LIMBONG: Mtukudzi steered clear from naming names. He wanted his music to live on beyond specific people and events. But he did address the crisis of HIV and AIDS directly in his music.


MTUKUDZI: (Singing) Oh, todii.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

MTUKUDZI: (Singing) What shall we do?

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language)

MTUKUDZI: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) What shall we do?

LIMBONG: This song, in particular, deals with issues of sexual violence and gender roles within the HIV and AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. In 2013, he said he just wanted to open the conversation.


MTUKUDZI: It's a song that was full of questions with no solution at all. And all those questions started making people talk about the disease and try and take the stigma away from it.


MTUKUDZI: (Singing in foreign language).

LIMBONG: Throughout his career, Oliver Mtukudzi released more than 60 albums and toured the world despite personal tragedy. His son and collaborator, Sam, died in a car accident in 2010. Oliver Mtukudzi saw music as a way to relieve grief and defuse tension. It wasn't about forgetting your problems, but giving a reason to dance in the face of them. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.


MTUKUDZI: (Singing) Oh, todii. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.