The Interview – Selmor Mtukudzi: On my own

2013-08-18 14:00

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Even though SelmorMtukudzi carries a royal name in music, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for her, writes Lesley Mofokeng.

In another world and another time, Selmor Mtukudzi would have been a princess in a fairytale.

She was born of music royalty. Her father, Oliver, is an Afro-pop icon in Zimbabwe and his definitive hits Todii and Neria are celebrated globally.

But carrying this surname has yielded fewer benefits for Selmor, who learnt to stand on her ownearly in life.

Oliver divorced her mother Melody Murape (who is a wedding coach) when she was three.

What followed was a long separation during which Oliver played little to no part in her upbringing or her musical development.

After completing her O-levels (the equivalent of matric), Selmor worked as a sales representative for Adam?&?Sons, a company that sold school uniforms.

She was trapped and desperate to leave a nine-to-five job that didn’t allow her to express her creativity.

So the day she arrived late and was fired on the spot, she knew she had to follow her passion and not look for another job.

“I made a good move to leave that job, I was terrible at it anyway.

I didn’t like going there,” she giggles, exposing the dimples hidden in her round cheeks.

As we settle for our chat in Joburg, she laughs about the days gone by, while remaining sober about the challenges ahead.

Selmor has three albums to her credit and has just released the fourth, which will be sold in South Africa, making her music available to local audiences for the first time.

When the sales rep job ended, she immediately signed up as a backing vocalist for several bands on the Bulawayo music scene.

These included Tanga WekwaSando, Kwekwe Band, Jabavu and Pax Afro. It was here that she honed her voice and gained the confidence to go solo.

“I saw all the hard work the bands put in and still they were not the best in the country. I learnt to be patient and to work very hard with these musicians.”

Like every artist, she paid her dues. Even when her famous surname came up, she always felt the need to prove herself.

“There are a lot of issues that come into play and some are out of your control. I love my father very much, that’s what I can tell you. I’m told that some men tend to take sides (when they divorce), so my father didn’t choose my side.”

The 29-year-old is careful not to say much about the frosty relationship with her father.

But in an earlier interview with a Zimbabwean newspaper, she was more forthcoming about the breakdown in their relationship.

She revealed that they were not on speaking terms and Oliver even snubbed her album launch by not attending.

Selmor bemoans the pressures of being the child of a celebrity: “I remember there was a time when my mother had to go out of her way to ensure that I looked good, dressed well and ate well.?And when something happens to your family as in my case, people would say things about my father.

Whether good or bad, it adds strain to your life.

“Even now I have to make sure that I provide enough for my children because people will always ask, ‘Is this Oliver Mtukudzi’s grandson?’

So I make sure that at school my son has everything that he needs.

“While it’s normal for most children born to the rich and famous to be spoilt rotten, this wasn’t the case with me. I would say that I learnt the hard way, literally living off my mother to where I am today.”

Selmor, who describes herself as passionate, hard-working, quiet and shy, is writing her own fairytale.

She believes that South Africa offers her more opportunities.

The new Afro-jazz album, Expressions, is sung mostly in Shona and English.

Leading the way is the hit single Nguva Yangu, which has set Zimbabwean radio stations alight.

Then comes Anokuda Chaiye and Wandinoda.

South African radio stations have taken to Ropafadzo, a fact Selmor says surprises her.

The song is about a young girl raped by an uncle who now has a disease “running in her blood”.

Like most of her songs, this is a true story, she says.

As a mother of three – Ben (5), Troy (3) and Hannah (1) – one can understand her passionate involvement with Girl Child Network.

Another cause close to her is education. She sings about its importance on Dzidzo.

Selmor is married to fellow musician Tendai Manatsa and on the song Tichachembedzana? she serenades him in a love song. In it, she asks: “Will we grow old together?”

On Amai she pays tribute to her mother, whom she says is a pillar of support, especially when she battled to make it in music.

“It’s funny that in South Africa you have more female musicians than males. But in Zimbabwe it’s only the males, so trying to break in there it’s a bit tough so you need as much support as you can get, especially from people you love. I’m so grateful for my mother. She comes to my shows and album launches, and looks after my children.”

While her famous father has made some political statements given how Zimbabwe has been run in the recent past, Selmor has sworn off politics.?Selmor is a bit more diplomatic, even affectionate as she talks about her father this time around.

She chooses to see the positive and celebrate that.Her shows are just as energetic as Oliver’s, using the mbira and hosho (shakers) to liven up her set.

“I have my beliefs, I know who I support and who I voted for it’s a private issue. I don’t sing about politics when people are so sensitive about who you support.”

Selmor’s path to success has been smoothed over somewhat and she may yet have a fairytale ending. So far, she has shared the stage with giants like Baba Maal and Salif Keita.

She has performed with her father in the past too. She also has some gigs in Spain in October, as well as in South Africa.

Selmor wants to perform in Glastonbury and Madison Square Garden some day.

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