Selmor Mtukudzi on her musical journey: ”I’m my own person & I don’t owe my success to my father”

by GRACE MUTANDWA | Zimbabwe

Music is in Her Blood Even Bono Knows it. Some families raise and nurture entrepreneurs, hers is steeped in the creation of music that sticks to the heart and stays on the mind.

Her polished voice speaks intimacy, entertains, invites knowing smiles and wipes out any doubt about her musical prowess. She is Selmor Mtukudzi and she is a music savant. Born 33 years ago to Melody Murape and music icon Oliver Mtukudzi, she has carved her own niche in the music industry.

She talks of how her superstar father cast a dark shadow over her and of how she fought to crawl from underneath it. Selmor smiles as she narrates how some people try to compare her to her father and how that has been her greatest challenge.

“It is an unfair comparison because my father has created his own music and I have my own and we both have grown our own specific following. Some people never even try to listen to my music before they write me off. Being a woman in the music industry is also a major challenge. You have to work twice as hard as men.

“It has been a hard road but I have learnt to ignore people who compare me to my father. I stay focused on developing my music and level of entertainment. Working hard and staying positive has paid off,” she notes.

From the young girl who sang in church and school choir, Selmor has blossomed into a confident and soft-spoken woman. She knows her strengths and the years of performing has reinforced her knowledge of what she is capable of achieving.

Her father is a revered musician and many would automatically assume that Selmor had a helping hand from him. But no, she had to wade blindly into the music world until a friend introduced her to another top Zimbabwean musician, Tanga Wekwa Sando. She became a backing vocalist for Tanga.

“When I started my musical journey I expected my father to give me a leg up. I strongly believe that there is nothing wrong with parents assisting their children. When I didn’t get the help I hoped for I was initially saddened but today I’m glad I have achieved success under my own steam. Granted, my father inspired me, but I have earned my place in the industry and I am happy that I don’t owe that achievement to him,” she explains.

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Selmor Mtukudzi. Image: Selmor Mtukudzi Music

Comfortably at home with rock and roll as well as jazz, she soon found herself singing with among other bands, Kwekwe Band and the inimitable Jabavu Drive. She also moved from backing to lead vocals, marking the beginning of an education in serious live performance.

Music following Zimbabweans will remember her as one of the soulful voices behind the youthful Pax Afro. In 2006 Selmor felt ready to start her own band. Unlike bands of the past, hers has no name – she performs simply as Selmor.

Selmor is married to fellow musician Tendai Manatsa who also comes from a musical family. They have three children. Firstborn, Ben plays the guitar, second born Troy enjoys playing video games and has shown no interest in music while the only girl and last born Hannah beautifully and happily sings off key.

“Maybe Hannah’s singing will improve and she will become an elegant musician but for now we are happy to listen to her sing off key,” said Selmor indulgently.

Selmor and Tendai are a very close couple and supportive of each other. They are Zimbabwe’s equivalent of American music power couple, Beyonce and Jay-Z. She describes herself and Tendai as hands-on parents and also as a prayerful family. She speaks with heartfelt gratitude for the strength of their relationship and marvels at the blessing of the 10-year-old marriage, a major feat in their industry.

While this regal and polished musician sits right smack between a father and husband who are both known names in music, she is not dwarfed but is much more on the international stage. She has collaborated with among other top musicians, Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, South Africa’s Judith Sephuma and Nigerian Yemi Alade.

She has produced top-selling albums with her husband as well as on her own. She is now a seasoned live performer who has taken her talent to Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the US and Finland among other countries. Her fan base is increasing with every performance.

Speaking of her foreign audiences she points out that; “I’m always amazed by the huge crowds we draw and how people receive our shows with so much enthusiasm. Music is a universal language on its own – some of the people we perform for don’t understand the lyrics but somehow they (lyrics) speak to them.”

On how she comes up with her lyrics, Selmor says her creative juices are fed by observing life, nature, emotions and everything around her. Sometimes lyrics come to her while she is working on something and she either scribbles them down or sings into her phone to capture the words.

“I never studied music, mine is raw talent. I have also learnt a lot from listening to others. I appreciate different genres of music and if I listen to a song and it touches me then I like it. I don’t limit myself to specific music,” she adds.

Selmor is certainly no small potatoes. She has made her mark and even U2’s Bono has her number.

“In 2015 I was one of the eight female artists from across Africa selected by Bono’s organisation one.org to sing Strong Girl as part of the campaign for the girl child to take her place in society, understand her rights and be empowered,” she elaborated.

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Selmor poses with her sister Sandra during a performance. Image: Selmor Mtukudzi Music

Under the one.org she also travelled to Canada to address that country’s members of parliament on the need and importance of supporting the education of girl children. As a result of that engagement, she established Vabvana (Daughters) Trust in Domboshava a few kilometres outside the capital, Harare.

Her eyes lit up as she smilingly adds that although the Trust offices are still under construction they are already assisting with payment of school fees for girls in need and also distributing sanitary wear to girls in the community.

Selmor has what she calls lazy days and hectic days. When not rehearsing she catches up on her sleep, spends as much time as possible with the children, cooks and bakes. On the day of the interview, she was recovering from punishing back to back performances in the resort town of Victoria Falls and in the city of Bulawayo. She was already preparing for another entertainment trip.

When her voice eventually fades and her dancing feet tire she says she sees a restaurant in her future. An avid cook she laughs as she says one day she will be a Chef and will create melodious dishes.