Tuku Music

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Unlike some places we know, message music in Zimbabwe isn't the product of fringe folk singers; it's the prime directive of the country's biggest hits and artists-Thomas Mapfumo, Simon Chimbetu and, most popular of all, Oliver Mtukudzi, or 'Tuku,' as he's known to his fans. Teacher, preacher and motivational guitarist, Mtukudzi brings his influence to bear on a host of topics on his first American release, from respecting tradition to his nation's AIDS scourge to the need to plan for the future. True to form for Zimbabwean pop, it's all wrapped in music that sounds the opposite of the words, with bright, sinewy guitar lines and joyous call-and-response chants. Tuku worked with Mapfumo in the '70s, and you can hear the chimurenga influence-guitars percolating in the style of the indigenous mbira, or thumb piano, and the roving elliptical groove. Mtukudzi is more of a soul man, though, delivering the goods with a distinct gospel/R&B air. Like a laid-back Teddy Pendergrass, Mtukudzi exhorts gently, and when you slow down, you get down with this supermelodic set. Tuku Music is a much overdue introduction to one of the giants of African pop. What took so long? Putumayo Artists.

FromEscape(October, 1999.) Subscriptions: $18/yr. (4 issues) from Box 462255, Escondido, CA 92046.