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Oliver Mtukidzi: Nhava

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Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi’s expert hand at guitar and his gruff, grandfatherly bluesman’s voice have served him well over the past 30 years. Nhava, the elder statesman’s 48th release, does not find Tuku taking many chances, but when the music sounds this effortlessly good, why bother? Indeed, Mtukudzi is so comfortable on his own recording that he often coughs or absent-mindedly mumbles on tape; somehow, this is more endearing than sloppy, as the impressive music and its one-take-track delivery affects a rustic bond between listener and performer. This casual musical intimacy transcends bonds of nationality and language; the choral harmonies, a precise storm of drums and the resonant, almost percussive strings of Mtukudzi’s excellent backing band, the Black Spirits, are unmistakably African but universally appealing.

Anyone capable of following Mtukudzi’s lyrics in his native tongue of Shona will find them filled with admonishments both political and personal for the politicians and peoples of Zimbabwe. But even if you’re hard pressed to pick out Zimbabwe on a map, you’re likely to find yourself singing along to the rippling eponymous chorus of “Tiregerereiwo” by a second listening. Nhava provides an excellent entry point for those who’ve yet to hear Tuku, and for old fans it’s a solid, enjoyable effort.