October 2007


Oliver Mtukudzi
at The 6th Annual Small World Music Festival
October 5, 2007 Jeff Healey's Roadhouse Toronto
Tuku Screeches into Healey's Roadhouse
by Laila Boulos with photos by Roger Humbert
Although this final installment in the 16-day Small World Music Festival was scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. the band did not arrive on stage until almost 11:00 p.m. But this did not seem to affect the crowd. The room was packed and animated with an audience that appeared to have sauntered down from last August's fabulous Afrofest in Queen's Park. These people were not coming for a mere concert. They were ready for a party — and apparently quite willing to wait.

Once Oliver Mtukudzi, 'Tuku' as he is known, arrived on stage he announced "We are coming from Zimbabwe. We are here to take you to Zimbabwe", this effervescent crowd went delirious! Many began to pull up chairs to stand on for a better vantage point, while others excitedly waved Zimbabwean flags.

Many people were chatting with each other giving the room a community feel. Quite a few were cheering for most of the evening and they all would have danced had there been room in the bumper-to-bumper packed room. Needless to say, although their bodies couldn't, their spirits were definitely grooving to the warm, caressing rhythms pouring out from the lively stage.

Mtukudzi, a producer, arranger, songwriter, singer and musician, has a career spanning over 30 years as a solo artist and with groups such as The Black Spirits and with Thomas Mapfumo in the Wagon Wheels. His music, referred to as tuku style, is an original combination of basically three influences: South Africa's driving mbaqanga rhythm; the lively jit, known for its infectious Zimbabwean dance beat; and, the gentle repetition of the traditional mbira rhythms of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. This unique, wind-up-your-feet melding has garnered Oliver loyal followers throughout his extensive career.

These wonderful melodies are further textured by Oliver's thoughtful and profound lyrics; lyrics that endear him to the common people and create enemies of those in power. These lyrics can be found on many of his albums and in titles such as, Bvuma (Tolerance), Tsivo (Revenge) and Please (Ndapota), and in his treatment of subjects such as Aids and oppression.

On this evening, shouting from the stage, Oliver instructed his audience to, "Use music when you are lonely, when you want to diffuse tension. Don't use music when you have nothing to say." With this, he clearly demonstrated to the audience a reverence for the power of music. He later said, "No matter what generation you are, you just have to work hard for yourself." Messages such as these can be found throughout his songs.

Samson Mtukudzi (Tuku's son), alternated between playing the guitar and saxophone during the evening, taking some wonderful driving solos. There were also numerous mind-bending moments by the extremely animated and talented marimba player. Later during the performance, dustings of Spanish and occasional folk influenced sensibilities were blended into the lively tossed-salad repertoire.

Oliver Mtukudzi & Erick Kasamba

Samson Mtukudzi
Throughout, there was intense eye contact between the members of the band and the loose, fun choreography reflected the laid-back feel of the whole evening. Frequent amusing variations of "yeah, yeah, yeah", "hey, hey, hey" and "oh, oh, oh" boomerang call-outs to the crowd during the evening further increased the closeness of this gifted performer with his audience.

During this concert, the band concentrated on the music as Oliver limited his banter with the audience. Although the explosive charisma and thunderous voice of Mtukudzi was gargantuan enough to carry the show on its own, the music and performers surrounding him were theatrical and entertaining in their own right providing endless visual entertainment. Yet, his engaging personality and warm sense of fun always seeps through, as when he stood like a mannequin mid-song, practically daring the crowd to make him crack up, which they tried, unsuccessfully.

This new Healey's — renamed Jeff Healey's Roadhouse — has more of a cave-like rock 'n' roll feel than the old intimate 1940s New Orleans club ambiance of its former Queen Street location. Although the sound system distorted the music frequently during the performance, the audience's enthusiasm was not diluted as a result. And a welcome change was the stage placement, allowing viewing of all three sides.

After an extended set and a long intermission, the band returned to a half-filled room — due solely to the late hour — of an equally boisterous audience to perform a spirited short set and a two-song encore.

This recently reworked band was more acoustic and provided a different feel from his performances of a few years ago at the Phoenix Concert Theatre and at Afrofest. And this reincarnation definitely works as a team. The collective mindset onstage is felt through the energy of the band flowing as one.

As the grand finale to the 6th Annual Small World Music Festival, they definitely went out with a bang and a huge party. It was a wonderful climax to a fabulous 16-day aural feast of artists and performances from around the world. And a Festival that this publication was only too proud to be involved with as an Official Media Sponsor!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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