Forbes.com recently compiled a list of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa, which ranked Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi (or Tuku) at Number 12.
They created the ranking according to “the highest numbers of votes … media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online), number of web references on Google, TV/radio mentions and their general clout across the continent”.
Oliver Mtukudzi has sold millions of albums across the globe and sings mainly in Shona. He not only sings, but is a skilled guitarist and composer. His fans have named a whole beat after him (the Tuku beat). He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa, and is currently collaborating on an album with Alicia Keys which raises HIV issues. His 2000 song ‘Wasakara’ (‘You’re worn out’) became the unofficial anthem of the political opposition party, MDC. “You are old, you are spent, it is time to accept you are old,” are some of the lyrics.
In an interview with Meron Tesfa Michael of Worldpress.org, Tuku says, “I was asked once why African composers don’t write more love songs…that made me think, but I guess it’s because so many African countries are still immersed in wars and struggles against disease, poverty, and famine, that love songs seem almost trivial.” It is true that Tuku, and many singers and writers in this Forbes list, choose to talk about the ‘grit’ of life.
Tuku was the only Zimbabwean celebrity on the list, although the band Freshlyground, which ranked 31st, does have a Zimbabwean member (Simon Attwell). Freshlyground’s single ‘Chicken to Change’, released in 2010, resulted in the band being banned from performing in Zimbabwe at the time. The music video satirises Mugabe. “You promised always to open the doors for us. Indeed it is you and only you who sleeps with the key. You are chicken to change,” are some of the lyrics.
I found it interesting that the Forbes list consisted of mainly musicians (over half), who are not just singers: they are writers, instrumentalists and visionaries who are driving whole musical movements forward. The next biggest group of power-people were authors and playwrights, and the Number 1 personality was novelist Chinua Achebe – I wonder how many literary figures would feature in other continents’ celebrity lists?
A quarter of the stars hailed from Nigeria, and a good amount of names came from Mali and South Africa. They are all award-winning frontrunners in their field and many of them represent the voices of their people in one form or another. There are no people ‘famous for being famous’ on this list – they are all known for their talent and achievements. Many do more than just excel in their fields – they are UN ambassadors, support African charities and are invested in their countries’ development. In my books, it’s a worthy list!