OLIVER MTUKUDZI IS EASILY Zimbabwe's most successful recording and performing artiste. But if his parents had their way, he would have been anything but a musician. When he was growing up in the then Rhodesia, musicians hardly made any money and parents discouraged their children from aspiring to be musicians, who were looked down upon as shiftless and good-for-nothing.
No wonder the parents of the man now affectionately known as Tuku by his fans, smashed his first guitar, which, incidentally was home-made. Mtukudzi now says: "The worst part for me is that both my parents were musicians, they sang in choirs; my father even sang with some bands."
But as no-one can put a good man down, Tuku managed to buy his second guitar from a secondhand shop and kept it at the next door neighbour's house, where he taught himself to play.
His debut single in 1975, Stop Before Goy broke new ground: as he says, "I wanted people to hear something they never heard before, something new". His second release, Dzandimomotera with The Wagon Wheels, a band which also featured another titan of Zimbabwean music, Thomas Mapfumo, was a massive hit. Tuku s parents finally approved of his career choice when he brought home his first royalty cheque of Z$842 - not a small fortune then - from its sales.
Almost four decades and 60 albums later (with three awaiting release), Mtukudzi, now 59, has proved that music can be a profitable and respectable career just like any other. He is now well-off, a dedicated family man, and a respected member of the community.
He has won numerous awards, is a UNICEF ambassador, and recently received the Italian government's Cavalier of the Order of Merit award in recognition of his work as an international musician.
But despite all these accolades, Tuku bemoans the fact that musicians and their careers are still not given the respect they deserve. "I don't think things have changed much from the time I was growing up," he complains. "It's true some parents encourage their kids to play instruments and even arrange for them to have lessons. However, it is taken as something to do but not to be taken seriously. In most cases the kids do not have a say, they just do what their parents expect."
His personal struggles as an aspiring musician and the negative perceptions against musicians influenced his decision to build an arts centre in his hometown of Norton, some 40 km west of the capital, Harare. He calls it Pakare Paye (which in Shona means...