It is with great difficulty that I write to let readers know of the death of Sam Mtukudzi, son of Zimbabwean music legend Oliver Mtukudzi, at age twenty-two. Sam died in a car accident on Sunday night as he drove from Harare to the Mtukudzi family home in Norton. The Norton road has been under construction for several years, due to extremely bad road conditions. In the dark, and with no reflective paint or street lights, Sam’s car hit the railing on a small bridge near the Kuwadzana neighborhood and rolled, killing Sam and his friend Owen instantly.
I heard the news of Sam’s passing yesterday morning, from friend and fellow musician Mathias Julius, who danced for many years in Tumbuka dance company alongside my first host brother, Donald Kudumba. Along with Mathias and other dancers from Tumbuka, I went to Mtukudzi’s home in Norton to give my condolences to the family. Because of the funeral, I missed an appointment with our new program coordinator, Tafadzwa, as well as my meeting with Mai Chipira. I’ll spend the next few days catching up. But for now, I want to write a short post in Sam’s memory.
Mtukudzi’s youngest child and only son, and one of Zimbabwe’s finest young musicians, Sam’s death is a tragic loss to his family, as well as a great loss to the arts world. It is especially sad news for me, given the close relationship between the Mtukudzi family and my own personal research, as well as Tariro’s work. As many of you know, I am writing my dissertation on Oliver, and I’ve referenced his video “Todii” on this blog in one of my previous posts, addressing World AIDS Day. The Mtukudzi family is also part of Tariro through Sam’s sister Selmor, who is Tariro’s official patron in Zimbabwe, and is especially involved with supporting our traditional music and dance group.
Just two weeks ago, Oliver and Sam performed together at a special show at the 7Arts in Harare, intended to highlight Sam’s role as the bearer of the Mtukudzi family’s musical legacy. As Sam explained to me in an interview last year, “I’m usually referred to as the future of Tuku music, as I’m the only boy that’s doing music in the family, and my dad’s getting old. So apparently, I just, you know, keep the music alive so that my father’s legacy lives on, his music is always performed live. Not only he is just doing performances, but then if I’m able to do a performance, I want to be able to honor his work by presenting one of the pieces that he’s created.” Sadly, this show, meant to mark a new chapter in Tuku music, instead marked a farewell to a beloved son and talented artist.
I’ll close by sharing a story Sam told me about how he learned to play guitar. Afraid that his father would disapprove of his desire to become a musician, Sam taught himself to play in secret, sneaking the use of one of his dad’s guitars when Oliver was traveling. Asked to perform at a school concert, he again “borrowed” the guitar without permission, only to look up while on stage and realize Oliver was sitting in the audience. Sam’s story gives a glimpse into the heart of this joyful, talented, and dedicated young man who was taken far too soon.
“I remember: I think I was about ten. I was asked to play guitar at my primary school’s Christmas carols concert night. I had been learning how to play this instrument for like five years, you know? And now I was ready to do performances. I had been performing in small chapel services back at the primary school. So, you know, my headmistress and the music people there knew that I could play guitar. So when this concert came up, they asked me, “Can you use your instrument?” I didn’t officially have an instrument. You know, I just used to pinch my dad’s guitar that he just used to always leave at home. So, I asked for transport from the school. So they actually gave me the school’s minibus. We went off to the house, took that guitar, and a little amplifier, just a little combo, loaded it up, went to school. In about a week from then- you know, my dad had been out, so he had just come back. Well, I didn’t know that the school had sent invites to the parents back at home for all the boarders! So, my parents got their invite. So… they came to the concert. We played. It was beautiful. When my time came to actually do my ultimate performance, I hadn’t seen my parents or anything, so I stand up there, and then I play. When I’m done with the performance, I’m taking a bow and I’m thinking, that guy looks like my father. And oops, the woman who’s sitting beside him looks like my mom! You know, I walked back stage, and, I’m there and I’m thinking, “What if it is?” You know? What if it is them? And everyone is clapping, clapping, and it was the last song. We get dismissed, we go outside, and, you know, there I am, I’m carrying my stuff back to the dorm and I’m bumping into my dad, thinking, “Hi dude.” And he actually didn’t react in any negative way. He was quite surprised, he was thinking, when did I start learning? How did I get there? I mean, you know, I was playing and singing at the same time! How did it happen? You know? So he’s like, “No, no, well done, well done, well done. Since you didn’t have a guitar, that one’s now yours.” And I was like, “Whew! Thank you! Thank you!” I was really happy. That was my first instrument, and, you know, it was an honor to have.”
After losing my own mom in a car crash, I know Sam’s death will leave a hole that can never be filled in his mom and dad’s heart. I also know how many of Mtukudzi’s listeners and friends around the world share in the family’s loss. Sam, we will miss you always. Zororai murugare mwana waNzou.