Former bandmates of Oliver Mtukudzi will pay tribute to the late Zimbabwean musical icon with a performance this weekend in Edmonton.

Mtukudzi — known by his fans as Tuku — died last month at age 66.

With his distinctive husky voice, Tuku was considered the most recognized voice to emerge from Zimbabwe onto the international stage, and his rollicking, captivating performances won him devoted fans worldwide.

His music, a mix of Zimbabwean and South African rhythms, became known worldwide as Tuku Music.

It was like a national anthem to us. Everyone was singing his songs.–  Enock Piroro

“Tuku Music was one those unique brands which I can say impacted many people, many people’s lives,” said Enock Piroro, who will perform in the special tribute concert on Saturday.

“I remember growing up, we would listen to that on the radio. It was like a national anthem to us. Everyone was singing his songs.”

Piroro, Alice Muringayi Utah, Munya Mataruse and Tatenda Viya all performed, toured with or were mentored by Tuku.

As members of his band the Black Spirits, the men also played on some of Tuku’s 67 albums before settling in Edmonton to pursue their own musical ambitions.

On Saturday evening at the CKUA Radio Network building, they will be joined on stage by former bandmate and guitarist Zivanai Masango, who has flown in from the U.S. for the performance.

Playing together is the perfect way to pay tribute to their mentor, a generous performer with a deep passion for music, said Piroro.

“He would come down to your level,” Piroro said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“He was very approachable. You could laugh, you could make jokes with him … when you were on stage, you could enjoy everything with him.” 

Piroro said he hopes fans at Saturday’s show feel like Tuku is there, performing on stage.

“There will be fireworks,” he said. “People should come with their dancing shoes.”

Tuku made several successful international tours, and performed in neighbouring South Africa late last year.

He was known for mentoring young Zimbabwean musicians.

‘He taught me to be humble’

Munya Vialy, a keyboardist with the Black Spirits, said as a boy Tuku inspired him to pursue music, and became like a father to him.

In 2007, Vialy started playing with Oliver’s son, Sam Mtukudzi, who was a successful musician in his own right.

“I was one of the guys who was doing the song list for the band when we would go out for shows, and I used to put down more of Oliver’s songs than Sam’s. So, Sam used to go to his dad, ‘Munya always plays your music more than mine, he’s your number one fan.’ “

When Sam died in a car accident in March 2010,  Vialy was asked to join Tuku’s band.

He’s thankful for the time they shared.  

Tuku always remained gracious and willing to nurture young talent, Vialy said.

“He taught me to be humble. Even though he died, I feel his musical legacy can’t die. We have to continue with it and pass it on.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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