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Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela first met in Harare in the '80s. - Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela first met in Harare in the '80s.

Tuku and Bra Hugh : A friendship that will never be forgotten

This article was ori­gi­nal­ly writ­ten for Music In Afri­ca. #Aux­Sons has trans­la­ted it into French as part of a media part­ner­ship agreement.

On Janua­ry the 23rd, Afri­ca remem­be­red argua­bly two of the conti­nent’s grea­test musi­cians, Hugh ‘Bra Hugh’ Mase­ke­la and Oli­ver ‘Tuku’ Mtu­kud­zi, who died a year apart on 23 Janua­ry 2018 and 2019, res­pec­ti­ve­ly. Tuku was accor­ded natio­nal hero sta­tus, making him the first musi­cian to receive recog­ni­tion from the Zim­bab­wean govern­ment. As for Mase­ke­la, his fami­ly built a pavi­lion in his memo­ry at West­park Ceme­te­ry in Johan­nes­burg, where he is buried.

Jazz giant Hugh Mase­ke­la (4 April 1939 – 23 Janua­ry 2018) was a well known flu­gel­hor­nist, trum­pe­ter, com­po­ser, sin­ger and a defiant poli­ti­cal voice.

He was a pro­duct of South Africa’s gol­den age of jazz and was a mem­ber of the legen­da­ry group, The Jazz Epistles, with Kip­pie Moe­ket­si, Abdul­lah Ibra­him and Jonas Gwang­wa, as well as the tou­ring musi­cal ‘King Kong’ in the late 1950s. Exi­led to the US in the 1960, he hel­ped bring Africa’s voice to the west. In the ear­ly 60s he stu­died in Lon­don and New York, soon relea­sing albums such as ‘Trum­pet Afri­caine’ (1963) and ‘Grrr’ (1966). He was mar­ried brie­fly to Miriam Make­ba and had hits in the US with the pop jazz tunes ‘Up, Up and Away’ (1967) and the num­ber one smash ‘Gra­zing in the Grass’ (1968), which sold four mil­lion copies.

In the 70s he tra­vel­led the world, wor­king in a varie­ty of genres, inclu­ding Afro­beat and funk. In the mid-80s he retur­ned to sou­thern Afri­ca, basing him­self across the bor­der in Bots­wa­na and wor­king with South Afri­can musi­cians on albums like ‘Tech­no-Bush’ (1984), which ear­ned him ano­ther top 10 hit in the US with ‘Don’t Go Lose It Baby’, fol­lo­wed by Wai­ting For The Rain (1985). Other albums during that per­iod, such as ‘Home’ (1982) and ‘Tomor­row’ (1987), also drew on top exi­led musi­cians. He retur­ned to South Afri­ca in the ear­ly 90s and conti­nues to record and per­form regu­lar­ly. In 2004 he publi­shed his auto­bio­gra­phy, Still Gra­zing. His 2010 album ‘Jabu­la­ni’ won a Gram­my Award for Best World Music in 2013.


Oli­ver ‘Tuku’ Mtu­kud­zi (22 Sep­tem­ber 1952 – 23 Janua­ry 2019) was a Zim­bab­wean musi­cian from Nor­ton, Masho­na­land West Province.

Argua­bly Zim­bab­we’s most reve­red musi­cian, Oli­ver Mtu­kud­zi and his band the Black Spi­rits chur­ned out some 60 albums since the late 1970s. Mtukudzi’s musi­cal career star­ted at the age of 23 with the 1975 release of his debut single ‘Stop After Orange’. He tur­ned pro­fes­sio­nal two years later in 1977, tea­ming up with Tho­mas Map­fu­mo in the famous Wagon Wheels Band and recor­ded the hit ‘Dzan­di­mo­mo­te­ra’, ins­pi­red by Zimbabwe’s war of libe­ra­tion. It was soon fol­lo­wed by Tuku’s first solo album, which was also a major success.

With his hus­ky voice, Tuku became the most reco­gni­sed voice to emerge from Zim­babwe and onto the inter­na­tio­nal scene and he ear­ned a devo­ted fol­lo­wing across Afri­ca and beyond. A mem­ber of Zim­bab­we’s Kore­kore tribe, he sang in the nation’s domi­nant Sho­na lan­guage, along with Nde­bele and English. He incor­po­ra­ted ele­ments of various musi­cal tra­di­tions, giving his music a dis­tinc­tive style, known to fans as ‘Tuku Music’. The style evol­ved into a dis­tinct Zim­bab­wean sound, incor­po­ra­ting tra­di­tio­nal forms of the mbi­ra, South Afri­can mba­qan­ga and the popu­lar Zim­bab­wean music style cal­led jiti.

Mtu­kud­zi tou­red all over the world, per­for­ming for large audiences in the UK and North Ame­ri­ca. He also per­for­med regu­lar­ly in South Afri­ca and Mozambique.


A friend­ship that will never be forgotten

The two musi­cians achie­ved long and suc­cess­ful careers and enjoyed a close friend­ship that first blos­so­med when they sha­red the stage in Harare in the ear­ly 1980s. “I was per­for­ming at this small night club, and this guy came unlaw­ful­ly on my stage and star­ted blo­wing his trum­pet,” Mtu­kud­zi said at Masekela’s memo­rial in 2018. “I don’t like people who dis­turb my cho­reo­gra­phy … I was per­for­ming ‘Ziwere’ and I remem­ber he played very well.”

At the time, Mtu­kud­zi did not know who the trum­pe­ter was, but the two musi­cians were later for­mal­ly intro­du­ced to each other, mar­king the start of a long friend­ship. “For over 30 years since I first dis­co­ve­red him, he never stop­ped to amaze me,” Mase­ke­la told the BBC in 2015. “[Our] syner­gy comes from the fact that we draw our sources and resources from heri­tage … We hap­pen to come from the same rural begin­nings, and as a result, we fall easi­ly into each other’s music.”

The two friends last per­for­med toge­ther in Harare in 2017, and their last joint recor­ding was of ‘Tape­ra’ – a down­tem­po gui­tar-trum­pet conver­sa­tion bet­ween the two greats. The song was from Masekela’s last album No Bor­ders. Their pas­sing saw an out­pou­ring of tri­butes from around the globe, with many prai­sing their musi­cian­ship and artis­tic effervescence.


They were reve­red by their col­leagues and pro­vi­ded unsur­pas­sed ins­pi­ra­tion to a new gene­ra­tion of musi­cians. Mtukudzi’s Pakare Paye Arts Centre, esta­bli­shed in 2004, is syno­ny­mous with arts deve­lop­ment and the nur­tu­ring of young musi­cians. Tuku was known for taking many upco­ming talents under his wing, inclu­ding saxo­pho­nist Joseph Chi­nou­ri­ri. “I was lucky to have wor­ked with him for about five years,” Chi­nou­ri­ri said. “It’s incre­dible that he gave me time and men­tor­ship from home in Harare where I lived. That’s how spe­cial Tuku was. There is no doubt that his lega­cy will shine on, for many gene­ra­tions to come.”

Tuku’s for­mer bas­sist, Never Mpo­fu, says it’s impe­ra­tive to have more art centres that “strict­ly address upco­ming musi­cians … Unfor­tu­na­te­ly, some of these ini­tia­tives are self-fun­ded, for­cing young musi­cians to lose their main focus. Afri­can govern­ments must come on board here to lend that vital sup­port to these institutions.”

Mpo­fu says Mtu­kud­zi and Masekela’s lega­cies are based on their pro­pen­si­ty to create hybrid sounds from new and old music. Mase­ke­la’s style was a fusion of Afri­can rhyth­mic pat­terns with Wes­tern swing and jazz, while Mtu­kud­zi crea­ted Tuku music – a coa­les­cence of jazz and jiti. Aside from his hus­ky voice and ons­tage cha­ris­ma, he show­ca­sed a mas­te­ry of mul­tiple languages.

The self-exi­led Mase­ke­la kept the free­dom torch ablaze glo­bal­ly while figh­ting apar­theid through his music and mobi­li­sing inter­na­tio­nal sup­port to raise awa­re­ness about the South Afri­can auto­cra­tic state pre-1994. Mtu­kud­zi, meanw­hile, bold­ly reflec­ted his views on socie­ty, but avoi­ded direct poli­ti­cal contro­ver­sy. None­the­less, when poli­tics domi­na­ted the social dis­course in his coun­try, songs such as ‘Ndi­pei­wo Zano’, ‘Neria’, ‘Todii’ and ‘Street Kid’ offe­red Zim­bab­weans hope for the future.

These songs allow the youn­ger gene­ra­tions to look back into their past to bet­ter forge their futures,” Zim­bab­wean rap­per and acti­vist Outs­po­ken says. “Music has always found itself inter­wo­ven in the DNA of the people to ins­pire hope, spark defiance, com­mu­ni­cate emo­tion and teach in a way that the spi­rit leads the conver­sa­tion – the heart intent­ly lis­tens and the mind rei­ma­gines things it alrea­dy knew.”

Mpo­fu says Mtu­kud­zi’s lyrics told mul­ti­laye­red sto­ries with subtle melo­dies to evoke the cor­rect emo­tio­nal res­ponses from lis­te­ners. “One of my best memo­ries of Tuku’s musi­cian­ship was how he always took time with his com­po­si­tions. No mat­ter how busy things got, he allo­ca­ted time to do things right because he wan­ted the work to be well done before releasing.”

Mpo­fu joi­ned Mtukudzi’s Black Spi­rits band in 2000 and recor­ded albums like Vhunze MotoNha­vaTsi­voTsim­ba Itso­kaRuda­vi­ro and Dai­rai. “This was the most signi­fi­cant per­iod in my career in terms of tou­ring, in which we did both natio­nal­ly, conti­nen­tal­ly and inter­na­tio­nal­ly. The expe­rience alone was quite overw­hel­ming ; mee­ting and living among people from dif­ferent cultu­ral back­grounds, rai­sing our natio­nal flag out there and being appre­cia­ted,” Mpo­fu says.

The confi­dence that Mase­ke­la and Mtu­kud­zi had in their musi­cal abi­li­ties, culture and heri­tage was unwa­ve­ring. The two com­po­sed music to jus­ti­fy their artis­tic and intel­lec­tual pro­wess, and their lega­cy will remain unchal­len­ged for decades to come.


This article was ori­gi­nal­ly writ­ten for Music In Afri­ca. #Aux­Sons has trans­la­ted it into French as part of a media part­ner­ship agreement.


Lucy Ilado

Lucy Ilado is a Kenyan based music journalist and artist's rights activist. Currently, she is the content editor for Music In Africa's East African regional office.

Before joining Music In Africa, she worked for the Nation Newspaper as a music journalist, and a contributor for several publications on music including the Elephant.info as a podcaster.

She is also a member of the arterial network, a non-profit civil society network of artists, organisations and cultural practitioners engaged policy formulation, advocacy and research, all geared towards growing and strengthening the cultural and creative sectors in Africa.

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