Lobbying and advocating women's issues through the music of Oliver Mtukudzi

 By Moses Tshuma

ANCIENT African society, like ancient Rome, was founded on the basis of patriarchy, a phenomenon which entails the dominance of men in social and cultural systems. Patriarchy saw male figures enjoy more privileges than females. In a family, the boy child was the source of pride for he diffused his family’s surname, thereby ensuring its growth.

On the other hand, the girl child had a double pronged role – she was viewed as an asset to fatten her father’s kraal with beasts; and expected at all costs to bare children OR Fher husband’s clan. Women, in general, had little or no say – they were deprived of rights to make choices of their own as they were viewed as children. Girls were victims of tailor-made polygamous marriages which saw them, by the dozens, struggle to devise ways and means to win their husbands' favor through child bearing, cooking, cleaning, and other domestic roles. Unfortunately, during those times, there were no feminists or advocates for the empowerment of women and recognition of their capabilities.

Recently, I delved into Oliver Tuku Mtukudzi‘s granary of wisdom – his music – to find that which has earned him great support across all age groups and sexes. Among my findings was the recognition and respect that he has displayed for women over the years through music. 

Neria, probably the first song to come into one’s mind at the mention of Tuku’s association with feminism, is a consolation to a widow that has just lost a husband and a rebuke to those who are involved in ill-treating her. Many a times, widows are subjected to different forms of abuse due to their vulnerability and ignorance of statutory laws that ensure the protection of their rights. In Neria, Tuku remarks “ Vanhukadzi vanobatwa senhapwa, kugara senherera.. .” (Women are treated like slaves and orphans). In this case, Tuku is castigating the abuse of widows using satire for social transformation so that perpetrators of the abuse may desist from their evil ways.

Still on widowhood, Mtukudzi sees the Shona culture of Kugara nhaka (inheriting), which many take advantage of to exert their chauvinism upon widows, in a different light. In conservative Shona societies, when a woman loses her husband, she can get married to her late husband’s elder or younger brother who then becomes responsible for taking care of the deceased’s family. In his song entitled Nhaka (inheritance), Mtukudzi sings; “Nhaka sandibonde… nhaka kuriritira mhuri yasiyiwa nemufi…” (The culture of inheritance does not entail sexual intercourse , but fending for the deceased’s family). Tuku sees the idea of kugara nhaka as a concept devoid of sexual abuse. Mtukudzi is expressing disgust at sex-starved males from the deceased’s family who see widows as objects to quench their sexual thirsts on - all in the name of kuriritira (fending) - which is in itself an abuse of human rights.

Mtukudzi does not necessarily demonise kugara nhaka culture in its entirety. He believes it is a good thing when there is mutual understanding between parties involved – consent. The husky voice brings the issue of consent in yet another song entitled Ndagarwa nhaka in which he puts himself in a widow’s shoes. “Ndagarwa nhaka amai, ndagarwa nhaka munin’ina…ndawana wekuchemera…anondichengeta… nekuturira…,” (Mother, sister, I have been inherited. I have found myself someone to look after me… a shoulder to cry on). In the song, the woman is elated that she has found a man from her late husband’s family to whom she will look for support; a man that is capable of taking care of her needs within her consent.

Not to paint women as always dependent and waiting on men to rescue them, Tuku sings the following; "Imi (hey) madam come let’s talk…You see madam I come far, come far there have child 1; 2; 3; 4…that child go no school, no food. So madam buy my nice dhoyiri (doil])…” Women are portrayed as hard workers – from her broken English, it’s a sign she might be uneducated, but she toils to earn her children an education. She is not hindered by communication barriers from communicating with people because it is the only way there is at her disposal for her to ensure food security for the survival of her children back home. In this case, Tuku is reversing the stereotype that African women are dependent upon their husbands for food and support of children.

Mtukudzi does not only fight against the abuse of widows, he also shuns domestic violence exercised upon women. This he does in a song called Tozeza in which he warns an abusive father through a child’s point of view, “ Imi baba manyanya kurova mai, isu vana tofara sei kana mai vachingochema pamberi pedu ?” (Father, you’ve been thoroughly beating our mother up. How do you expect us to be happy seeing our mother crying before us?). Women abused by their husbands tend to endure the torture because they do not want to walk away leaving their children behind to suffer. “ Imi manyanya …” can be translated to (Enough is enough), a sign that Oliver Mtukudzi can no longer put up with the abuse of women in their marriages, hence something has to be done to curb the cancer that has gnawed down peace and freedom of female figures in their homes. “ Idoro here rinoti mai ngavarohwe.. .” (Is it alcohol that propels you to see our mother as a punching bag?). Tuku associates the domestic abuse of women with excessive consumption of alcohol, thereby identifying one of the causes of the abuse of women in their homes, hence the need to exercise alcohol consumption management for the safety of women.

Mtukudzi, calls for the recognition of women’s capabilities in a song called Ndakuvara in which he sings; “ Dana mai vemwana ndakuvara kuno, pakupingudza mombe ndakuvara,” (Call my wife and tell her I have failed to control this heifer). It is the voice of a man calling for help from his wife after failing to complete a task he believed was constructed for only men. The song is a metaphor depicting a father who, single-handedly, tries to nurture his son into a young man he wants him to be, but fails. In a patriarchal society, it is men’s duty to shape the boy child. Nevertheless, the man’s call for his wife to assist in nurturing the child into a respectful being is a sign that women are also helpful in nurturing sons. In this right, Mtukudzi is calling for gender parity in social spheres for the gendering of roles is doubtlessly a social construct that can be turned around.

Genesis 2v18 says: “And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper,” meaning alone, Adam would not be able to run the Garden of Eden. God then creates Eve from Adam’s rib . Mtukudzi denotes the same idea in a song entitled Mbabvu Yangu (my rib). In the song, he says: “ Nhasi uno iwewe ndorembera pauri. Wazadzisa hupenyu hwangu iwe hwanga hurigasva…ndiwe mbabvu yangu… ” (Today you are my pillar of strength. You have filled my life, which was tantamount to an empty container, with meaning. You are my rib). In the song, a dedication to his wife, Daisy, Tuku admits that he cannot stand alone without her for she is the one who gives him support and dignity. Despite patriarchal beliefs that debase women, Oliver Mtukudzi makes it clear that a man needs a woman to be complete – his strength and success lie within a female figure (wife). Hence, women should be treated gently.

Through the above works of art and even more that could not find space here, Tuku has not only used his prowess and talent of reaching to million through song for mere entertainment but also for advocacy, awareness raising, and women empowerment. We can all use our gifts for good and empowering the vulnerable.