Oliver Mtukudzi + #DhukuForTuku = Retrospective

It was a black Friday with a twist, when the Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry, declared the 25th of January, 2019 – ‘Dhuku for Tuku’ day – in honour of Dr. Oliver Mtukudzi.

By Elspeth Chimedza, Founder of Groove Magazine International

#DhukuForTuku #TukuMusic

Zimbabweans had just come out of the #InternetBlackout and #ZimOnFire protests as the memo for Dhuku for Tuku day circulated on social media and popular messaging platform, WhatsApp.

The mandate of the #DhukuForTuku campaign was for women to dress in all black and include the traditional head dress / scarf, locally known as a ‘dhuku’. The men were encouraged to replicate Samanyanga’s signature style of African print shirts and head dress as well. This act would pay homage to Tuku’s legacy of preserving Zimbabwean traditions and his popular hit song ‘Neria’ which dealt with women’s rights in contemporary patriarchal societies.

Before long, corporations and celebrities (including SABC’s soapie Isidingo), had paid tribute to Tuku. Nonetheless, it was #DhukuForTuku that exemplified how Zimbabweans honoured their ‘voice of the people’. Dr. Oliver Mtukudzi, affectionately known as Tuku, had passed on January 23rd, 2019 from a diabetes related illness. His evolutionary career and expansive output spanned over four decades and 59 albums; transcending generations and racial barriers. Bidding farewell to such an influencer, mentor, and campaigner for social justice, seemed unreal for Zimbabweans and Africans worldwide. Thus the #DhukuForTuku campaign spread so fluently. The campaign followed in the same fashion as the South African homage paid to the late nationalist, Winnie Mandikizela Mandela.

However, unlike Winnie, Tuku, was not a politician, he was a cultural icon. He was the most widely known singer from Zimbabwe but he did not make ‘pop’ music or hip-hop, in fact he predominately sang in ‘deep’ Shona. His husky voice and songs of traditional values with western jazz and blues  undertones was as Zimbabwean as it gets. Tuku embodied some of the best qualities of Zimbabweans and President Emmerson Mnangagwa rightfully declared him a national hero. By right he should have been buried at the National Heroes Acre, but he wasn’t. He was laid to rest “kumusha” in Madziva without the specious fanfare. On the 26th of January 2019, 43 buses ferried thousands of mourners and to his rural home to lay him down as a Chief.

Those that couldn’t make it posted their pictures wearing their dhukus. Women across the nation dressed in all black and covered their hair. Hair has always been a symbol of power, youth and  beauty. For women long, thick, unbound, and free hair, is culturally associated with seducing  men. To cover one’s hair with a dhuku is to lose one’s power, signify marriage or done in remembrance of a loved one. So the dhuku has always been a symbol of both oppression and rebellion. In the context of the former, the dhuku was imposed on African female workers by white colonials. They found African female hair offensive hence forcing them to cover their heads with a head dress. Eventually the dhuku was adopted into African culture and became a symbol of respect. The dhuku has been worn at traditional wedding ceremonies, funerals and in the homes by married women. In the modern context, the dhuku is worn as both a fashion statement as well as a cultural symbol.

In the context of #DhukuForTuku, the head wrap was a show of respect, an act of piety and a symbol of love for our ‘local’ man and his values. Tuku was a hardworking, down to earth human rightsactivist who often challenged the status quo through his music. He unified Zimbabweans from all walks of life because he always called Zimbabwe home. And this was so even in his untimely passing. While social media is often used to celebrate luxury brands, consumerism and excess, it was refreshing to see it being used for to promote our traditions and champion a social cause, just as Tuku used Tuku music to comment on everyday Zimbo experiences.

#DhukuForTuku happened at a time when the country was experiencing perilous hardships. The women who wore the dhuku honoured a true father figure, and in retrospect, our solidarity gave some power back to the voiceless.

Other icons we lost:

Charles Mungoshi – author (71) died 16/02/2019
Stephen Chifunyise – cultural consultant, playwright, writer (70) died 05/09/2019
Robert Gabriel Mugabe – former president of the Republic of Zimbabwe (95) died 06/09/2019

DOWNLOAD the full ISSUE No.1 = Save Power, Save Power here.

Selected Sources:

Photograph of Tuku by: Zorodzai Chibuwe, Fokus Media


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