We live in a world filled with adversity and challenge. Sometimes the only navigating tools we have are the support and encouragement of the people we trust and cherish most. Every day, we carry these words of advice and wisdom in a secret place, and in those moments of adversity, we reach into that place and put them to good use.
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, one of the most powerful creative forces to emerge from Zimbabwe in the last three decades, gives the world a few such tools - and a safe place to carry them - in Nhava (HUCD 3102), his debut album on Heads Up International. Nhava is the latest installment in the label’s critically acclaimed Heads Up Africa series.
Mtukudzi says the new album - named after the Zimbabwean word for “carrying bag” - is a satchel filled with nuggets of advice, encouragement and wisdom for travelers on the journey of life as they make their way through an often-perilous world.
“Every song on this album has something to teach about life, something to remind you and encourage you about what is important in life,” says Mtukudzi, who has built a vast body of work by skillfully balancing compelling African rhythms and accessible melodies to address social issues relevant to not only his native Zimbabwe but to people and cultures everywhere. “All of these ideas are universal. They are the same for every human being, regardless of their culture or their environment.”
Loaded with rich rhythms and engaging harmonies, Nhava opens with “Ninipa,” a call to humility. Life is about each of us guiding the other, says Mtukudzi, and the process can only begin when we do away with our pride and pretensions. “Pindirai” is a lament for the imperiled environment, and a plea to older generations to intervene in the reckless and destructive practices of those who lack perspective about the natural balance of the world.
“Menzva Kudzimba” is a poetic piece that celebrates the power of unity, a virtue best exemplified by the animal kingdom. Mtukudzi’s recurring message throughout the track is that selfish attitudes inevitably lead to heartbreak. The motivating lyrics and forward-moving groove of “Hope” serve as a warning that the world will leave behind those who give in to laziness and procrastination.
On the more mellow side is “Tiri Mubindu,” a lament for a departed loved one, wherein Mtukudzi compares human life to a garden of flowers that need to be watered and tended every day. “Dzidziso” is a final prayer of thanks - even for the simplest things that the world has to offer.
Simplicity and unity are two themes that emerge again and again throughout the album - as they have throughout much of his previous work. Nhava rises above the often troubled dynamics shaping the socio-political landscape of his native country and the surrounding region, and instead addresses the most universal aspects of the human condition. “For me, politics is about people who have special interests and personal agendas,” says Mtukudzi. “I’m not trying to write political songs. The moment you do that, you start standing in favor of a particular person, or a particular party, or a particular class of people. But music is supposed to be for everybody. The moment things become political, you’re segregating people and groups. You can’t be political without establishing opposite ideas and opposite sides.”
No agendas. No segregated groups. No opposing parties. No class distinctions. There’s something for everyone in Oliver Mtukudzi’s bag. Reach into Nhava and discover a simple wisdom that could change the world.