I spent Saturday night at Yoshi’s in downtown Oakland, where the incomparable Oliver Mtukudzi, the singer/songwriter from Zimbabwe and one of Africa’s greatest musicians, led his Black Spirits band in two rousing one-hour sets. Genial and energetic on stage, Mtukudzi dance as well as sang, backed by two female vocalists and accompanied by his sweet-stepping conga player. Before the gig, I happened to be standing near the entrance to Yoshi’s, with my wife Chizo, when Mtukudzi walked in, his guitar slung on his back. After thanking him for the countless hours of enjoyment I’ve received from his music, I asked Mtukudzi about Zimbabwe, where the relentlessly destructive Robert Mugabe is making life increasingly miserable for people. “Nothing lasts forever,” Mtukudzi told me with a smile. I asked him if he is safe in Zimbabwe and he said yes — and that he plans to return to Harare on Monday. I asked about Mugabe’s baroque misrule and he pointedly refused to discuss the Zimbabwean dictator, letting his prediction (“nothing lasts forever”) speak for itself. On stage, he also refused to criticizes Mugabe, though in never mentioninghe president’s name, he dissed him by implication. In the second set, Mtukudzi performed his stunning song, “What does it take to be a hero?” While he made no reference to Zimbabwe’s president, clearly Mugabe is no hero, and Mtukudzi’s song is a reminder of the many namesless heroes who stand ready to rebuild this beautiful and bountiful country once the old “big man” is gone.
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