Tawanda Marwizi Arts Correspondent
When Oliver Mtukudzi’s former publicist Shepherd Mutamba revealed the dark side of his former employer in his book “Tuku Backstage”, many critics treated it as a case of sour grapes.
Among other things Mutamba exposed how Mtukudzi mistreated his band members and deprived them of their dues. He narrates how he went for a long time without a salary while band members that complained about their working conditions were either dismissed or threatened.
He also revealed how he languished in hospital without attention from the musician. Mtukudzi did not like the book and his camp claimed it was aimed at tarnishing the superstar’s image.
But it seems Tuku is guilty of the offence as charged by Mutamba following information that has been availed to this publication after the recent departure of keyboardist Munya Vhiya.
Vhiya left the Black Spirits last week citing poor remuneration and unfavourable working conditions. He worked with Tuku since 2012 and was one of the key members of the group.
Although the keyboardist did not want to disclose much about the reasons for his departure, a source close to the development spilled the beans and revealed more about the dark side of Tuku.
The source narrated how other band members have left Tuku citing poor remuneration that does not tally with the lucrative deals that the musician clinches in the country and abroad.
Over the past few years band members that include Picky Kasamba, Enock Piroro, vocalist Alice Muringai voluntarily left the group to seek greener pastures when the world believes Tuku’s band could be the dream employment destination for most musicians in the country.
The source said the most fascinating era at Black Spirits was when former manager Debbie Metcalfe was running the show. After her departure, it has not been rosy. Commenting on his departure, Vhiya said he has decided to focus on his Viyali Studios instead of globetrotting with the superstar.
“I had a meeting with Mudhara Tuku last week and our discussion was not for media consumption. When it is necessary to give you the information I will contact you. At the moment I am focusing on my studio work and I am no longer part of Black Spirits,” said Vhiya.
But our source revealed that Vhiya has been trying to have his issue attended to over the past months and his plight fell on deaf ears. After his resignation Vhiya did not attend a show at Westgate Christmas Lighting function last weekend, which saw Tuku failing to thrill fans.
“Munya meant it because he did not attend a private function that Tuku performed at over the weekend,” said the source.
“At fist Munya thought he was being mistreated by former manager Sam Mataure and believed Mataure’s recent departure would solve his problem. He has now realised that Tuku is the problem because the new management could not address his plight until he had a meeting with the superstar himself. It was apparent after his resignation that Munya realised that Tuku has a hard heart.
He does not treat his band members fairly. Black Spirits is a big band and everyone should be stampeding to join it, but it is now known among instrumentalists and vocalists that the big name does not bring what its workers deserve.”
Tuku music board chairperson Tungamidzai Simango said he was not aware of Vhiya’s departure.
“I am not sure about that. I will get back to you when I get the full details,” he said.
Tuku’s manager Walter Wanyanya said he was not around but Vhiya had asked to be excused from weekend shows because he had a recording in Australia.
“Munya asked to be excused because he had a recording in Australia. I am not aware if he has resigned from the band. I am not aware if he also met Mtukudzi over the matter because I was away I came back today (yesterday),” he said.
Vhiya did not travel to Australia as claimed. Tuku fumed when contacted for comment over the issue.
“Who told you about it? I do not want to comment. Go and get a comment from your source,” he said.
Tuku’s response and attitude seemed to confirm his hard heart that has led to the departure of the members. Piroro left the group in January this year for Canada. Yesterday Piroro was reluctant to shed more light on the matter when contacted for comment. He had promised to come back to this publication but could not.
“Piroro left the group because of remuneration issues again. He decided to join his siblings in Canada than spending time at Tuku Music,” said the source.
He was followed by vocalist Muringai who also failed to stomach the mistreatment. Efforts to get a comment from Muringai were fruitless. It seems Tuku’s habit of mistreating band members has come a long way.At one point, he dismissed five band members without telling them and they only realised that they had been fired when they were left out of an international tour.
One of the dismissed members of that time, lead guitarist Mono Mukundu, last year wrote in his book “Following the Melody”, about how they were fired without being notified.
He noted that they met the then Oliver Mtukudzi manager Sam Mataure ‘on the street’ and were told that a new team was travelling for an international tour. In an interview yesterday, Mono recalled the incident.
“We had submitted our passports for visa processing and we thought we were travelling for the tour. One band member called me and said his passport had been returned without a visa. Later that day I incidentally met Sam Mataure and he failed to explain why we had been left out. We were just told that Mudhara Tuku would call for a meeting, but that meeting never took place. That is how we were fired,” said Mukundu.
Longest serving Black Spirits band member Picky Kasamba yesterday also shared his story about days at Black Spirits.
“I had a good working relationship with Mtukudzi. We came from rags together and things went well when we released ‘‘Tuku Music’’ album.
“We did well under Derby’s management, but things changed when she left. I felt shortchanged and decided to relocate to Bindura to run a bar because I thought I would get better income. “However, I have nothing against Tuku because I know things change and sometimes different managers have different ways of doing things,” said Picky.
Another man who worked with Tuku, John “Chibhodhoro” Muyambo also shared a lighter side of how he got to work with the superstar in the 1980s after the musician had been deserted by his band over remuneration.
“We went to record with Oliver as Ocean City Band after his group had deserted him. His brother Robert led a rebellion in the group complaining about payment and Tuku’s manager Jack Sadza had to run around because they had booked studio time in South Africa. He approached us in Bulawayo where we were performing as Ocean City Band and we went to South Africa to record the album as Tuku’s new backing group,” recalled Chibhodhoro.
Tuku is a big man internationally and he has done well, but he also has his weaknesses that have led to disgruntlement within his camp and the history goes many years back.