World & Latin

Following Tuku's Tracks


Every culture has a singular voice that balances the inherent infectiousness of pop music with insightful social and political commentary. In Zimbabwe, that voice belongs to Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi. His latest offering on Heads Up, Tsimba Itsoka, addresses certain universal truths about human nature that drive not only the socio-political dynamics of his native country but those of the world in general. The title translates to "No Foot, No Footprint," and each song speaks to the kind of imprint we leave behind as we move through life. "Some are traveling in a positive direction, while others are traveling in a negative direction," say Tuku. "But everyone leaves their mark on the world, no matter how big or how small."

The album is a series of vignettes that focus on common vices -- greed, hubris, gossip, laziness -- and the perils that inevitably accompany them. The lyrics are almost all in Tuku's native tongue, but the melodies and the rhythms are infectious enough to drive home the overall theme. "Njuga" ("Gambling Card") compares the game of life to a game of cards -- one that should be played well and fairly. "Kuipedza" ("Wasting") is a call to make the best of one's short time in this world. The closer, "Kumirira Nekumirira" ("Waiting and Waiting") is perhaps an ideal summation of the album as a whole. "If we're not taking action to make our lives better," says Tuku, "if we're not walking, if our feet are not moving, then there's no footprint for people to follow." Oliver Mtukudzi has left fresh tracks worth checking out.