The Theological Questions of Oliver Mtukudzi (Part 2) — "Raki"

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

When the legend of Zimbabwe music, Dr. Oliver Mtukudzi died early last year, I penned a blog post talking about my fascination with the theological questions he posed in his songs. I mentioned in that post, which you can read here, that 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. I want to look at another of Tuku's songs titled "Raki" (a Shona colloquial version of the English word "Luck"). This song is from his 2001 offering, titled "Bvuma". Check the track on YouTube here or on Tidal here.

In typical Tuku style, the song starts off with some smooth acoustic guitar play which is soon pleasantly distracted by the staccato drums and a catchy lead guitar melody which will run for the rest of the song with various nuances. Tuku is a master musician — his intros are always on point - from the first instrument played, to the very first word said.

Enter that special husky voice.

Varipo varume vanorarama neraki (There are those who live by luck)

Iripo mikono inorarama neraki (There are those paragons of masculinity who live by luck)

The first few words here clearly show that Tuku is up to rebuke his subject. His tone is almost stern as is seen in the second line. The idea of "luck" is an idea that is relatable to mankind. We think and assume — and as Tuku says — and even "live" as if by luck or chance. This is at least what the natural human thinks of life around him. "I was lucky today because I got this or that..." or "I am so lucky my family has managed to do this or that." Luck! But Tuku is relentless in interrogating this type of thinking.

Isingazive pane anochengeta (Unaware that someone watches over them)

Tuku shoots straight from the hip on what the problem for these people who live by luck is: they are unaware that there is Someone who watches over them. What is fascinating here is that in his worldview, Tuku does acknowledge that there is a Sovereign Being who is responsible for the affairs of humanity. While I do not know Tuku personally and his ideas on the God of the Bible, it always is impressive when songs in popular culture carry such deep theological meaning that many pastors and preachers attempt to communicate in their communities year-in and year-out but struggle sometimes. Yet a song like this can be a good bridge with seekers and skeptics into such conversations on difficult topics.

Zvichida ariko kumusoro (Perhaps there is Someone who is up there)

Anoyambutsa pazambuko (Who can help you cross over the river)

I found it interesting the word choice here. He uses "kumusoro" instead of "kudenga" to talk about where this "someone" who helps us is. I think this is an unintentional genius on his part because "up there" is less intrusive to someone with this type of thinking. They can easily think through the abstract "kumusoro" (on top or up there) than the very specific "kudenga" (heaven). I have seen unbelievers talk about "the man upstairs" or "the man up there" and this is the language that is used here and it is very relevant in its colloquial sense.

Surely there is someone who is up there, Tuku argues. Someone who helps us cross rivers. Our affairs are indeed in the hands of Someone, and for us, as believers, we know that that is God. The Psalmist says it well: “My times are in your hands…” Ps. 31:15

Kukuburitsa murutsva (Who gets you out of the wildfire)

Agonzvengesa panjozi (Who helps you dodge accidents/danger)

I have found myself in pretty tight spots in my life. Times I sat in a class in college with no idea where I was going to get tuition fees. Or the time when I was 15 and my friend Edwin and I met up with some guys who were robbing kids walking to school. In both instances, I cannot explain how I escaped except that someone must have been looking out for me. Through all the wildfires and possible calamities - the Lord has been faithful in taking care of me. And I am sure many of us can relate. Or maybe not. Hence Tuku is asking the main (theological) question in this song.

Raki? Unoriwanepiko raki? (Luck? Where do you get this luck from?)

He is questioning the sources of this "luck" which people claim to have. This is a good question that all of us should think about. You really think you are where you are and have all you have because you are simply luckier than the next man? All the danger, calamity and fires you have escaped have no active objective reason than just luck? The Scriptures would say otherwise. In fact, it is an understanding and acknowledging of God's goodness towards us (primarily in providing the Way for us to be saved) that leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4).

As I write this, I pray you would look at all the things you have in your life and ask yourself: where did this call come from? Your hard-work? I promise there are people who work harder than you. Your cleverness? I promise there is someone smarter than you in most rooms. Your luck? That does not exist. We are all that we are, and have what we have because our God is in the heavens - doing whatever he pleases, and providing for all through his common grace.

Tuku got it, and nailed it. And while we enjoy the artistry in music and other mediums, I pray we can learn even deeper truths about the One who controls all things.

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