The Theological Questions of Oliver Mtukudzi (Part 1)

Theological questions and postulations are not only the habitual pleasure of certified theologians, they are the natural reflexes of human beings as they seek to make sense of life (where the answers to these questions come from is whats important). The questions themselves will be asked without any thinking by all and sundry. See, one thing that has intrigued me with the late legend Oliver Mtukudzi's music is the very real and challenging questions he poses in some of his songs. While not a theologian, Tuku asks questions that you and I have probably asked, and questions which I think unless we have right answers to, can set our lives on either a path of joy and life or one of death.

Listening to Oliver Mtukudzi's music being played by parents or other older folks as a kid certainly created an atmosphere that is hard to put in words. His afro-jazz sound, tethered with ageless truths would do nothing but move the soul, and challenge thought, while at the same time it was very educational.

I have a very vivid memory of my dad playing the song Masimba Mashoma. I was around the 4th or 5th grade and he used that song (which is based off of a Shona proverb) to explain to me about how our people were taught through this proverb not to rely on things that did not belong to them lest they be take away by the owners, and they are left wanting. It was a call to caution to be careful not to be overly dependent so you wont be crashed when whatever it was that you were being given was taken away. So profound.

This has always been more than music - Tuku spoke like our parents spoke, and each of his song sounded like a dad, an uncle or your grandpa sitting with you from across the table - telling you stories and encouraging you of the ways to go in life.

Now, I want to look at a very few of Tuku's songs and help us reflect on some of the theological questions he posed in a series of posts.

In some of the songs, he gave answers to the questions, in some, he did not.

Tuku's discography is filled with actually gospel albums which he derived from especially the Methodist and the Presbyterian Shona hymn books. A favourite of mine of such albums is his 1992 offering Rumbidzai Jehovah (Shona for - Praise Jehovah). In the album he croons out one of my favourite hymns on the 7th track, a hymn called Hakuna Zita (There is no name [like Jesus' name]).

However, it is in the songs that were not necessarily hymns that I think Tuku struck a real code with the majority of people in Zimbabwe and the world with his well thought out questions which were unmistakably theological in nature. he asked good questions.

In this post, we will look at one of such songs.

Pindurai Mambo, found on the album Paivepo (2000)

This song, with no clear intro, starts off as if it has been playing for a while - and thats one thing I like about it. And when the drum rolls, beautiful melodic female voices sing:

Oh, Mwari mudenga (Our Lord in heaven) Baba, Mukoma (Father, our brother!)

Confusing at first what they are talking about, but when Tuku's husky voice cuts into the melodic voices with a striking question, we get a fuller context of the theme of the song:

Kana chiri chitadzo chavo kwamuri, Mambo (If this is a sin by them to you Lord) Chido chenyu here ichi? (Is this your will?) Pindurai Mambo (Please answer, Lord)

Dai mavaregerera (Please forgive them) Mwari ndateterera (Lord, I beg on their behalf) Chido chenyu here ichi? (Is this your will?) Pindurai Mambo (Please answer, Lord)

It is immediately clear that this mukoma (brother) mentioned in the opening lines is in some sort of trouble and the song is asking if he has sinned to deserve such bad fortune. He is asking, in essence, for forgiveness on the behalf of his protagonist (if he has sinned against God so much as to deserve the misfortune that has befell him).

This is interestingly also a question that the disciples of Jesus ask him in John 9. While they are walking around, they see a man who is blind from birth and they ask him if he had sinned or if his parents had sinned. Jesus answers them by telling them that neither of those had sinned, but this man was born this way so that God's work and essentially God's glory will be seen through him. This man eventually gets healed. It is a question we all battle with at some point: why did such a bad thing happen to so and so?

The answer is simple: this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

But while we are pulled into this part of the song, Tuku comes in with the not only theologically accurate, but very comforting pre-chorus, and the chorus:

Vanorara musango vachichema kwazvo (They sleep in the bush, crying heavily) Vamwe vanotsanya vachigunun'una (Some fast and pray while weeping) Zviri kwamuri Mambo, (But it is up to you, Lord) Kuda kwenyu itai (Let your will be done) Chido chenyu here ichi? (But is this your will, Lord?) Pindurai Mambo (Please answer me, Lord)

I have heard people literally use this chorus in their times of trouble. "Let your will be done - it really is all up to you." I think to be fair, while Tuku was no theologian, he pretty much nailed it here. These words echo the very words of our Lord Jesus when he is in Gethsemane and is troubled in his soul because of the impending death he faces. In Luke 22:42 we read the words of our Lord Jesus:

"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

But thats not the only question the song raises. The song goes on to highliht two more scenarios that you an I can relate with at a very human level.

Vanodya vachiguta avo vasina maturo (The wicked/bad ones eat and get filled) Chido chenyu here ichi? (Is this your will?) Pindurai Mambo (Please answer, Lord) Vamwe vari mukudya nhoko dzezvironda (While others eat the scabs of their wounds) Chido chenyu here ichi? (Is this your will?) Pindurai Mambo (Please answer, Lord)

This verse is very sad and also relatable in many ways like I have already said. His protagonists in this verse are the poor who "eat the scabs of their wounds". This is a Shona proverb which portrays people who are poor and are seen as disgusting to others. Tuku's antagonists on the other hand are those that are evil yet they have all the food and fulfillment they desire. This is an old-age question. Asaph asks and wrestles with the same questions Tuku wrestles with in Psalm 73.

"Why do the wicked prosper?"

While Tuku does not answer the question intricately, he goes back to the pre-chorus and chorus to again remind his listeners that it is all up to God and he should do his will - which on its own is an excellent attitude in the face of suffering.

However, a look at Psalm 73 gives us a nuanced and maybe more in-depth explanation to this question. It is a question that we all have wrestled with at some point. I have often looked at people who do not serve the Lord and do not even love him and things have often seemed to go well for them, while things seem not to go well for me. But Psalm 73 has always reminded me of that the fate of the wicked should not be viewed from a temporal perspective, but an eternal one.

Asaph’s reasoning was based on human thinking, not on faith. While the wicked do prosper, their ultimate destiny is now viewed through the eyes of faith in accordance with the promises of God given in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Looking only at the short-term they were an object of envy, but from a longer range view they were to be pitied. The same is today.

As the chapter closes, some vital things pop out.

Rather than bringing men closer to God, affluence only made men more independent and ungrateful. Prosperity led to spiritual complacency and even blasphemous pride.

Asaph’s affliction, while unpleasant, had the beneficial effect of drawing him closer to God. While there was an initial reaction of bitterness and complaint, he finally came to the point of worship and praise. Now, rather than dwelling on what material things he lacked, he delighted in the greatest blessing of all—having God as an intimate counselor and guide, a present and a future source of comfort and security (vv. 23-26). This is the place where we ought to dwell - God as our greatest treasure in life and death.

Whether you have little or you have much, God is ultimately all that you need, and all that can really satisfy you!

Now, I will be back some other time to look at another song by Tuku and think about some of the questions which he brings up and have an attempt at breaking down what the Scriptures say in answer to them so it can perhaps be helpful to you to think on those things.

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