Zimbabwe music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi discloses HIV status

Tuku, Zimbabwe’s most successful musician, has previously battled wild rumours of ill-health and explained that he is diabetic; hence his often-sickly look. But that has not been assuring enough for conjecture-mongers.

Oliver Mtukudzi

Zimbabwe music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

And during a weekend appearance on CNN’s African Voices programme, the 60-year-old guru took the opportunity to declare his status.

“I am not HIV positive myself, but I have dealt with HIV and Aids programmes, a lot of them,” Mtukudzi told interviewer Nkepile Mabuse.

While the prolific singer may be HIV negative, he admits he has lost loved ones to Aids, including his brother Robert and four band members in quick succession within two months in the 1980s.

The devastating experience pushed Tuku to embrace HIV as a key theme in his decades-long musical career hoping to fight stigma and raise awareness through his powerful lyrics.

“My brother Robert died of Aids… so I had all the reason to try and help and give awareness to the people and fight the stigma,” Tuku said. “I am glad the stigma in Zimbabwe has fallen away, not completely though. People now talk about it, they don’t hide it.”

He also relived working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the 1980s to spread HIV/Aids awareness, a few years after the disease had been discovered.

“I am one of the very first artists in Zimbabwe to be approached about HIV by the World Health Organisation (WHO); that was 1987. Nobody knew about the disease in Zimbabwe, and I was lucky to get the material about the disease.

“I had to learn and come up with a song which made me go to Switzerland where I actually saw people infected and affected, so I had a better understanding of the disease than my fellow artists because they hadn’t seen it and I had seen that,” he said.

His songs that address HIV and Aids-related issues include Tapera, Todii and Stay with one Woman, among several others.

Mtukudzi’s activism won him critical acclaim last year when he was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to raise Aids awareness in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Giving him the role, UNICEF regional director Elhadj As Sy said: “You have demonstrated a genuine commitment to communicating strong and clear messages about the importance of child and young people’s rights, including their right to live free from HIV and AIDS.”

In the same interview, Tuku opened up about the pain of losing his son, Sam, who was a musician in his own right.

The 21-year-old died in a car crash in 2010 while driving from the Harare Airport where he had gone to pick his father unaware that Tuku had cancelled his flight from South Africa.

Asked if he blamed himself for Sam’s death as suggested by some media reports, Mtukudzi replied: “Its’ confusing… So you always have an element of guilt, that maybe if I had gone maybe it would have happened otherwise, you know, but you can’t control that.”

“I’m still learning to live with it, that’s all I can say. It’s not easy, but I do enjoy and celebrate the 21 years I’ve head with him, it was 21 years of excellence.”

The renowned musician revealed that he had taken a two-year hiatus from full-scale music to mourn his son. He was only able to pick himself up and release a new album this year, he said.

“I didn’t really think about my music, I was thinking of him, trying to recover, even though music was my therapy.”

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