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Date 30 June 2005 at 11pm Venue The Commodore Ballroom

Reviewer John Jane

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Vancouver International Jazz Festival 2005

Since the independence of his native Zimbabwe, Oliver Mtukudzi has established himself worldwide as a producer, arranger, influential songwriter, and a charismatic vocalist. He sings in Shona, Ndebele, and occasionally in English.

Known to his many friends and millions of fans as Tuku, his musical style so innovative, that it is often referred to as "Tuku Music." It is clearly distinct from any other style originating from the southern African sub-continent.

By the time Tuku and his eight-piece band that included two female back-up singers took to the stage at around 11pm, the Commodore crowd had already been put in a party mood by the opening act, Guinean kora player, Ba Cissoko.

Cissoko’s group, consisting of fellow Guineans, Sekou Kouyaté, also on the kora, bass player Kourou Kouyaté and percussionist Ibrahima Bah, can hardly be defined as jazz musicians.

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They are nonetheless capable of mesmerizing their followers with the powerful, driving rhythms of their mandingo musical heritage. By the end of their 90-minute set, I felt it could easily have been reduced by at least thirty minutes. A warm-up act should leave the stage with the audience wanting more, not preferring LESS!

Sporting his familiar beanie hat, Tuku led his band, the Black Spirits, with skillful, complex guitar lines that balanced compelling African rhythms and accessible melodies. Most of the songs performed focussed on social and economic issues relevant to people and cultures everywhere.

Oliver Mtukudzi
Oliver Mtukudzi

The band’s live renditions of forward-moving songs like “Hope” and “Ninipa” were loaded with rich rhythms and engaging harmonies.

This music defuses tension and lifts the spirit, and it didn’t seem to matter that most of the audience had no idea what he was saying.

2005 John Jane

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