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Tuku-Mutamba tiff goes a gear up

Sherperd Mutamba…stirring a hornet’s nest.

By Correspondent
The Shona, who have a rich language in terms of its idioms, proverbs and other wise sayings have one which says Rina manyanga hariputirwi (literally translated: That which has horns can not be covered). Intrinsically it means the truth will come out some time, whatever amount of time it may take.

I believe the real cause of the acrimony between Zimbabwean music star – and legend too – Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and his former publicist Shephered Mutamba will one day come out.

Unfortunately, this may only happen after both persons or either of them disappears from the picture.

However, it must be something really big, seeing that Mutamba has decided to pen another book with a few new additions but basically regurgitating what he said in the first edition.

While Mutamba is entitled to his own opinion and surely freedom of expression, it appears to have been overdone in Tuku Backstage Second Edition.

Why Mutamba chooses to draw a tomahawk against his former master after he had left Tuku’s employ, only shows it is a product of excessive bitterness.

The book ultimately remains a way of getting back at his former employer. We may agree that books are written for different purposes, some as eulogies while others critique their subject matter, but the way Mutamba does it in Tuku Backstage belongs to another world.

Mutamba precisely rides roughshod over his ex-boss, leaving the book for those who would want to see what he has come up with this time around.

For Mutamba, an accomplished journalist and for long, one of Mtukudzi’s closest personalities, there does not seem to exist a boundary between what should and should not be thrown in for public consumption.

Although the writer claims that the book is an exploration of the life of one of Zimbabwe’s most successful musicians, it appears he went overboard and becomes largely insensitive.

The book has a number of additional chapters from the first edition published in 2015.

By being a celebrity, Tuku – as he is affectionately known in music circles – Mutamba feels that he apparently automatically cedes his privacy, implying that even his private life becomes something of public interest.

Perhaps what Mutamba has done is very unusual in this book. Most biographies end up mollycoddling the subject of their writing to the extent that they end up as PR puff pieces.

Objective pieces, those that turn out to be realistic would be in the mould of Mutamba’s book. However, there are certain aspects that leave a certain type of reader seething with anger.

Academic and writer David Mungoshi, who penned the foreword to Tuku Backstage seems to have no problems with the book. He writes; “Tuku Backstage, Shepherd Mutamba’s biography of Oliver Mtukudzi, may come over as somewhat voyeuristic to some. Mutamba is often accused of publishing privileged information in the book.

“Some readers even argue that, by divulging Mtukudzi’s closely-guarded secrets and moral deficiencies, Mutamba betrayed his close association and the confidence of his one-time employer. Such readers do not want any sordid detail spoken about beyond certain cloistered circles . . .

“Despite the feathers that may be ruffled, I commend Mutamba’s book for fact, insight, depth and breadth of research. The book is very easily part of the social annals of our time and its impact is as engaging as it is electrifying.” (p6)

Mungoshi – the author of The Fading Sun and Live Like an Artist – in fact appears contend with Mutamba’s biography.

Given some moment to reflect, including pictures of a lifeless Sam Mtukudzi will no doubt appear insensitive on the part of the writer – who enjoyed proximity not only to Tuku but also the son. Mutamba himself showers the young Sam with praise in sections of the book, not only for his artistic creativity but also his character.

“If you met Sam and did not like him, instantly, there was something wrong with you. He was a loveable young man and very debonair.” (p34)

True, Mutamba made use of privileged information which he has spilled into the public domain.

There is no doubt that the book has strong evidence of research. Having worked for Tuku all those years, Mutamba undoubtedly had access to the musician’s private life.

Tuku’s former publicist appears to accept that Tuku is a talented artiste, a trait that has given him international stardom but nonetheless also goes on to say the musician – like any other human being – also had flaws.

The musician himself is quoted admitting to this. “I’m human, I cry. It’s not a weakness to cry but an expression of emotion that I feel at that particular time when I momentarily get into my own space. You cry because you’re saddened by something or because you’re overjoyed. Because my music also speaks to me, I sometimes cry onstage when the music touches my heart.” (p13)

Mutamba, in a chapter titled Blind Spots argues that human frailties are normal.

“Celebrities are immune to blind spots, but will not easily acknowledge their deficiencies or weaknesses for fear of undoing past glory. But they are human with disabilities that work against them, where their actions are disgraceful and their view of life is out of sync with reality. Yet they frequently and conveniently conceal moral and ethical failure in the cocoons of private life and depict themselves as infallible angels

“It is inherent in humans to hold back our faults. Even in the church, worshippers will not confess easily when they transgress, invariably for the fear of negative public perception that could be built around those who admit their shameful acts.” (p83)

One interesting aspect of Tuku’s character is that he is unassuming. The writer acknowledges that he shared a ride with the musician in the boot of a Peugeot 404 en route to Mushandirapamwe, Highfield in Harare for a show.

“In the baggage compartment with me was Tuku. I was bewildered to see him because ETs were for common people not the A-List celebrities. I thought men like Tuku should have been using the more fashionable Dutsun (sic) 120 Y or Renault 5 taxis like Rixi or-PFumo Mini Cabs even Creamline and A1. It was to transpire later that the ET was actually Tuku’s means of transport that particular time.” (p16)

I doubt very much if humility can be mistaken for a negative trait. If anything, it is actually positive and it becomes unfair to criticise Tuku for using public transport to travel for a show.

In the second edition, one of Mutamba’s inclusions is Chapter 15 titled Politics. The writer traces Tuku’s music from the pre-independence era to the present day, also putting to the fore the metamorphosis this has gone through over the years, from being critical of the minority Smith regime to associations with persons assumed to have been working closely with former president Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe has gone through military-aided political transition in November 2017, with long-serving despot Mugabe resigning on November 24 as an impeachment process was set in motion by Parliament.

While interactions between Tuku and Mugabe’s close associates in the Generation 40 (G40) are the major subject of the chapter, it appears a bit farfetched and unfair to conclude outright that the musician had admiration for Mugabe’s dispensation.

Somehow, politicians themselves would want to associate themselves with those they think will pull numbers for them and this could be the reason why some of the most active politicians then found themselves visiting the superstar.

Writes Mutamba; “To my knowledge, Tuku associated with Mugabe and his wife Grace, from about the year 2010, when he started receiving special gifts from State House; then he suddenly stopped all political criticism, completely.

“I realised too, that the president’s high profile men became regular guests at Tuku’s special functions . . . In March 2010, Tuku received US five thousand dollars from the president and his wife Grace, for his son’s (Sam’s) funeral expenses.” (p147)

I feel this is another point where Mutamba misses it altogether. His ex-boss is a celebrity who has a large following locally and internationally. Any leader would want to associate with the brand and capitalise on the opportunity to lure as many supporters as possible.

Perhaps what readers can not take away from Mutamba is that he is a good writer. The major thrust of his writing is what startles many a reader.


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