Iconic Zimbabwe vocalist—“Tuku” to his many fans—has much to share on Tsimba Itsoka, which translates to “no foot, no footprint.” But Mtukudzi’s left quite a large footprint in Zimbabwe, as he’s been performing for more than 30 years, first with Zimbabwean legend Thomas Mapfumo in the band Wagon Wheels. Now, the 55-year-old with the weathered and raspy chops singles out violent crime, fast-talking con men and the perils of fast fame while surrounded by the spirited background quartet of two male and two female vocalists.
Since Mtukudzi sings mostly in his native Shona language, with some English mixed in, his message is unfortunately lost to those outside Zimbabwe. He does, however, explain the essence of each tune in the liner notes, though they don’t help much. For Western ears, the payoff comes in the passionate singing and the sing-songy, lilting quality of the melodies and traditional music elements, including the hypnotic chimurenga rhythm and the traditional kateke drumming. Western pop and jazz figure in as well, both coalescing on the memorable “Kuropodza,” an ode to communication that reminds us how well-crafted songs transcend any language barrier.