Oliver Mtukudzi or Thomas Mapfumo? “Oliver is double-faced!”, says Mapfumo

We republish two important interviews that Violent Gonda of SW Radio had with the two most successful and arguably best musicians to ever come out of Zimbabwe onto the local and international scene Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mtukudzi. These interviews reflect the blurred lines between the life of a musician on and off the stage and the interesting contrast between these two giants. There are justifications for Oliver Mtukudzi just the same way there are for Thomas Mapfumo especially on their political philosophies. We are letting our readers judge and let us know what they think. Here are the interviews.

11 December, 2009 Two of Zimbabwe’s leading musicians were paying tribute to a fallen legend, Simon Chimbetu, who died on Sunday this week. While Oliver Mtukudzi refused to discuss politics, Thomas Mapfumo’s was unrestrained in this interview with SW Africa Radio’s Violet Gonda. We reproduce the full transcript.

Violet: Thank you very much Mukoma Oliver Mtukudzi for agreeing to do this interview with us. First of all we hear that the chart topping Sungura Musician Simon Chopper Chimbetu from a reported short illness and as a colleague, and I know he was your friend, first of what are your thoughts on this sad news.

Oliver Mtukudzi: Well I am still in shock because I didn’t even know he wasn’t feeling well or how it came to be it is so surprisingly shocking.

Violet: What do you remember most about Simon Chimbetu?

Oliver Mtukudzi: He is a musician

Violet: Yes, he was extremely popular for his music with many people saying that he provided a lot of slang for Zimbabwe culture like his song, Zvandipedza Mafuta which became slang for jealousy, what can you say about this?

Oliver Mtukudzi: Well, he was a profound artist and he was being very artistic and if people could adapt on his sayings then he was good.

Violet: Now as people say his music was good and popular there are others who say they were disappointed by his support for an oppressive government, what are your thoughts on this?

Oliver Mtukudzi: Well that is his own opinion; I look at him as a musician that’s all I know of him. His beliefs were something else, I had nothing to do with that.

Violet: Right, but do you think as an artist, musicians should have an obligation of reflecting the reality of the situation on the ground?

Oliver Mtukudzi: Musicians are human beings. They have their own beliefs. They have a right to believe in whatever they believe in. As for me with him, we were friends from a long time ago, from late 70s.

Violet: The death of the Sungura musician Simon Chimbetu has been described as a great loss by many. He was a great entertainer and very popular as his songs tended to focus on the working class and the poor.

Zimbabwe has become a polarized society and the current political and economic climate has impacted heavily on both the music industry and musicians themselves.

The destruction of the informal sector, for example, has affected around 70% of record sales. Musicians have often been called upon by the politicians to help promote government policies not least of which has been the land issue.

To discuss the challenges affecting Zimbabwean musicians, I caught up with Zimbabwe’s most historically significant musician Thomas Mapfumo currently in self imposed exile in the US. I first asked him, why musicians, in general sing about the suffering of their fans but rarely talk about the causes of their suffering.

Thomas Mapfumo: Well, some are really afraid of coming out in the open and saying the truth because they are afraid to be victimised. This is what happens. They want to say it out. You know the reason because Zimbabwe is not a free country. It’s not a democratic country. You are always being observed, what you are doing, what you are singing about. You know the music that goes against the government; they don’t play that on the radio. So some musicians are very much afraid to speak the truth.

Violet: Do you think as an artist, musicians have the responsibility of reflecting the reality of the situation on the ground despite the victimisation?

Mapfumo: Ya, I mean it is the duty of every musician to do that, you know, when a country is like Zimbabwe. The problem that people are facing you cannot just keep quiet because we are all citizens of that country. Some people say that you are a musician you don’t have to involve yourself with politics. Who am I? Where am I supposed to come from? I am coming from Zimbabwe. You think musicians don’t have feelings? He is a human being. So I feel the same whether being a musician or not but I feel for my country. I want my people to be free and I am also a citizen of that country. I am supposed to be seen doing something about what is happening today. I cannot just sit there and just keep quiet. That is not the way.

Violet: And there are a lot of fence sitting musicians who do benefit from both sides. You know they make money in the Diaspora and at home they have their music played on ZBC. Are we wrong to judge them harshly for this?

Mapfumo: Ya, there are a lot of two-faced musicians but we don’t want to talk about them. Some pretend that they don’t support the government but during the night they support the government. Those are the two-faced musicians that we don’t want to talk about but we know them we know who they are. We don’t want to mention their names but that’s wrong because you are pretending that you are with the people and at the same time you are not with the people. You are just in there to make money for yourself. If you are a freedom fighter you have to fight for freedom show the people that you are with the people and always stand by the people.

Violet: Do you think musicians, in general, choose to support the government for their own security so as not to get victimised?

“Oliver is two-faced. You understand what I am trying to say? He doesn’t come out in the open and say where he stands”

Mapfumo: That’s very true and some people went in there for money. We have a lot of friends, I have a lot of friends, like Andy Brown, I have other musicians. We know them I don’t want to mention names. Andy is a good friend of mine I talk to him, we talk about music. But such musicians, they cannot make it on the music market and they are trying to make big amounts of money and they are told by these people from the government that if you do this for us, will pay you so much money. They want the money. They don’t support the government but they want the money… but they will be actually damaging their reputation because people out there will know about it and know exactly what you stand for.

Violet: You have suffered after openly criticising the regime as your music is directed to the social and political situation in the country. Now has the banning of your music on the state broadcaster affected your music sales?

Mapfumo: Somehow it has affected my record sale like people who live in the rural areas are not able to listen to my music and they have no way of coming out to buy my music because you find my music in Harare. Maybe in a few shops in Bulawayo and other small cities but people who are living in the rural areas don’t have access to my music and right now they have cleared off the flea markets where there was a lot of our music, where those people were buying a lot of our music. And today the sales records are at a standstill. They are trying to destroy the music industry.

Violet: Now how do you balance performing without fear even though your music has been banned you still continue?

Mapfumo: If you are a freedom fighter you have to show the people that you are a freedom fighter. You are fighting with the people you stand with the poor people; you don’t have to fear no-one. And this is all in music. I didn’t commit any crime I am only telling the people the truth about what is happening to their lives and what is happening to their country. And this is no sin at all and somebody call people like us sell-outs, because I am not a member of Zanu PF. If I am a sell-out what have you done yourself to improve the situation of the country? There are no investments; the economy of the country is down. There is nothing that people can talk about. Our money is just nothing today and yet people go on to say that those people who criticize the government are sell-outs. Who is a sell-out? You are destroying the country you must be the sell-out!

Violet: And you were actually quoted in a BBC interview at the live 8 concert at Eden Project saying that a coup is the only way of solving the crisis in Zimbabwe what is your justification for saying this?

Mapfumo: Well, well, well, when people have had enough and people are saying enough is enough. They tried to go for elections and those elections are being rigged in the name of Zanu PF. Zanu PF does not want to be associated with election monitors from other good countries like America, England, German and France. They are trying to keep power to themselves and yet there are people out there who have young ideas for the country…they are being denied the access to do so because of Zanu PF. They think they were in Maputo they fought for the struggle. EVERYONE fought in the struggle. Everyone of us suffered during this struggle and no one can ever claim that they were the victors of this war. We all came out the victors.

Violet: But do you still believe that a coup would be the only way of solving the crisis in the country?

Mapfumo: Ye, well if the people have had enough and there is no other way to free themselves what do you think people should do? They cannot wait any longer. They cannot go on and on forever living in this state. Like we are talking today of Simon Chimbetu who is dead. Why is he dead? Because that country doesn’t have medication for our people. If you fall sick you can just die from any disease that could be cured. But just because there are no doctors, there is no medication; people are just dying like flies today. Who should we point our fingers to? To the state. They are killing the people by the way they are running the country.

Violet: You talked about Simon Chimbetu who died on Sunday after a short illness, I was talking to Oliver Mtukudzi about this popular musician, and no disrespect to the memory of Chopper Chimbetu – his fans tell me his music was great and popular and I know he was your friend and colleague – but there are others who felt disappointed by his support for an oppressive regime. Now my question is the same question that I asked Oliver Mtukudzi that, is it not ironic that most musicians are making money from singing about social and economic problems faced by their fans but they never want to sing songs addressing the causes of these problems? What can you say about this?

Mapfumo: Well it’s the same thing, like him Oliver. He is two-faced. You understand what I am trying to say? He doesn’t come out in the open and say where he stands. The last time we heard he made a statement that Mugabe won those elections and yet he rigged those elections. He should come out in the open and identify himself with the people. He is not doing that. He is working with this manager of his, Debbie. Debbie is white she wants to live in Zimbabwe and maybe she is the one who is influencing him to be two faced. That is not good. If you are a freedom fighter you stand for what you stand for. You are not afraid whether to die today or tomorrow. Everybody dies, if it’s not your day you won’t die. It’s the same thing that even goes with the president. He is very old. We can hear that tomorrow or next week he is dead. It doesn’t surprise us.

Violet: … you see yourself as a freedom fighter as a musician Now is that the role that you see musicians as artist in a repressive community?

Mapfumo: I don’t want to influence anybody. I am a musician and a Zimbabwean citizen. I am one guy who doesn’t want to see people denied their freedom. And if you don’t see that as a musician, well that is your own lookout. If you don’t want to sing about it well you can go on and sing about love. If what is happening in Zimbabwe is a good thing you can go on and do that. But I don’t see how good it is as there are a lot of bad things happening in Zimbabwe and people should be able to point at that. Not only musicians but every one of us. But if you think you cannot do it because you are afraid you could get killed in the game – well leave it and do whatever you think is right for you. But please do not be two-faced. Some people pretend to support the government and at the same time pretend to be with the people. That is not very good. Show us where you are what you stand for.

Violet: … Every year you usually go to Zimbabwe to perform at the Boka Tobacco Floors, do you see yourself being able to go back after making these controversial headlines?

Mapfumo: I didn’t go back this past Christmas because I heard rumours from friends that people were conspiring about my life…I didn’t go because I feared for my life… but I will be there because that is where I belong that’s my home.


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