Godwin Muzari Entertainment Editor
“I was not paid from July 2008 to December 2008, but continued working. On the 12th of December 2008, I fell critically ill with diabetes that was diagnosed late and that sent me into a diabetic comma. “I stayed in hospital for days, and required money for medication and related bills. Every effort to get what Tuku owed me in accrued earnings, to assist with my expenses, failed flat.
“He was in Norton and I was in Harare, only 30 minutes away, and he did not visit me in hospital or at home after I was discharged. He did not even call.”
This excerpt from Shepherd Mutamba’s book “Tuku Backstage” gives an insight into the relationship between the writer and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and partly explains why the book is more a personal attack on the musician than a mirror of his work.
“Tuku Backstage” is Mtukudzi’s biography, written by Mutamba, who worked as the musician’s publicist.
While Mutamba tries to paint a silver lining to the biography by highlighting Mtukudzi’s creative prowess in some chapters, the better part of the book seeks to denounce Tuku and portray him as an immoral leader in his music empire.
What Tuku did to Mutamba and other workers at his Pakare Paye Arts Centre is totally unacceptable and the musician was wrong. The workers were toiling and he was not paying them, which badly exposes his management skills.
However, the language Mutamba uses in describing challenges he faced under Mtukudzi betrays the writer’s anger and pushes the book far from being an objective analysis of the musician’s work and life.
While it was a good idea to give readers an insight into the unknown crevices of Tuku’s life, Mutamba’s approach smells of soar grapes. It is apparent that the writer has scores to settle with the musicians and it is unfortunate that Mtukudzi’s first biography had to come from a disgruntled former worker. It is inevitable that the musician will find it an unfair representation of his personality.
Mutamba is mainly livid about his working conditions in Tuku’s camp, especially going for months without pay.
In another statement he notes: “For twelve months leading to May 2014, I was still chasing the balance owed from early 2013 without luck. Tuku was filling venues around the world, but his explanation was that music was not paying him. Naked lies, of course.”
Although Mutamba’s anger is mainly evident in the chapter “Blind Spots”, his choice of interviewees and inferences made in other chapters are obviously targeted at discrediting Tuku, which makes the biography unbalanced.
For instance, in the first chapter “The Man” Mutamba makes an emotional conclusion about Tuku’s character after chronicling his works.
With reference Tuku’s character, Mutamba notes: “Legacy is not made of dreadful acts like the shutting out of his life of his own daughters Selmor and Sandra. His infidelity as told by his ex-wife Melody and wife Daisy, discredit his personality . . . Great musician, yes. Great personality, no.”
It is apparent that Mutamba presentation of the good side of Tuku’s creativity and musician’s words of wisdom is a smokescreen to the greater intention of the biography.
In his quest to show Tuku in bad light, Mutamba goes on to include “Mwendy’s Diary” to hammer his point about Tuku’s infidelity that he constantly refers to in the book. The chapter does not add any value to the book as it mainly dwells on Tuku’s late backing vocalist Mwendy Chibindi’s affair with Joseph Mafana.
The chapter is apparently meant to remind people of Mwendy’s alleged affair with Mtukudzi yet there is nothing much about the issue. Mutamba knew very well that the courts had barred publication of excerpts from Mandy’s diary and he could have mentioned the issue in any other chapter if his book was not a sign of desperate efforts to discredit Tuku.
Only the last two paragraphs, which were actually plucked from The Sunday Mail, show something about the alleged affair.
Besides interviewing Tuku’s wife Daisy on the musician’s life, most people that Mutamba quotes in the book are disgruntled over Tuku, just like the writer himself.
He interviews Tuku’s ex-wife Melody Murape in the chapter “Ex-Wife Tales”. Melody speaks at length about Tuku’s infidelity and failure to take care of their daughters Sandra and Selmor. However, Melody also highlights the good old days with Tuku.
Mutamba also interviews Sandra in the chapter “Daisy Rules Tuku?”. Sandra talks of how she was mistreated when Daisy came into Tuku’s life and this chapter seriously condemns Tuku as a bad father.
In the chapter “Daughters” Mutamba reproduces Selmor’s damaging messages about her father in her conversation with an arts journalist. He goes on to narrate how the issue had troubled Tuku and how the musician had disowned his daughter.
Mutamba also interviews former Black Spirits member Picky Kasamba who hints about Tuku’s hard work but blames the musician for lack of management skills.
Mutamba fails to balance the interviews with views from other people that see the good side of Tuku. He included the two disgruntled daughters and does not mention why he did not talk to Samantha, who is presented as the favourite child in the book.
The writer documents his unsuccessful efforts to get an interview with Tuku’s alleged secret son Selby yet he does not say why he failed to talk to people like Samantha, who could probably have given him the other side of the story about Tuku’s performance as a father.
Mutamba does not talk to any of the current members of the band that would probably have given a different story about Tuku, for instance his manager Sam Mataure. Instead, Mutamba presents Mataure as an inefficient manager.
The book also tries to link Tuku to politics when the musician has always kept his political affiliations to his heart.
Mutamba sees something wrong in Tuku’s performances at President Mugabe and The First Lady’s functions. Ironically, he also mentions that the same musician has links with Morgan Tsvangirayi and the two have attended each other’s family functions.
Other chapters in the book, deliberately positioned after the ones targeting Tuku’s personal issues, are general about local music and known facts about the musician.
The tone in these chapters is flat and does not dilute the emotional accounts about the musician in the first chapters.
When he writes about how he released information about Sam Mtukudzi’s death before Tuku knew about the bereavement in the chapter “Son(s)” Mutamba admits that, despite his experience, he failed in executing his job.
“It was unprofessional for a man of my experience to use unverified information in sensitive matters about bereavement , no matter how much I trusted the source of information. I failed Tuku.”
In the same way, Mutamba failed to present a balanced account of Tuku’s work and life in “Tuku Backstage”.