If you’ve ever dreamt of playing alongside Afro-jazz legend Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, just drop into his studio in Zimbabwe and pick up an instrument.
Mtukudzi — one of Africa’s most famous and admired musicians — has an open-door policy at his arts centre in Norton, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Harare.
Aged 65 and with more than 60 albums under his belt, the self-taught singer and guitarist says the centre provides a home for all musicians, particularly youngsters who often face disapproval from their parents at home.
Named “Pakare Paye”, which translates as “same old place” in the Shona language, it charges no fees, employs no tutors and follows no curriculum.
“This is not a school,” Mtukudzi told AFP during a break from rehearsals at the sprawling complex of thatched and brick one-storey buildings.
“We don’t deal with education here — we deal with talent. A college says, ‘we will teach you’ but we say ‘you have got it, let’s learn'”.
The husky-voiced Mtukudzi, whose stage name is Tuku, said he started to plan the centre after realising the problems he confronted in the 1970s when he began singing still existed.
Zimbabwean parents often frown on the arts as a profession, preferring their children take up careers in the law or medicine.
For decades, young artists seeking a supportive mentor would head to Mtukudzi’s house in the town of Kwekwe, carrying their song scripts or just showing off their dancing and choreography stunts.
His daughter Shami jokes that “our house was the first arts centre”, recounting how the home was flooded with aspiring artists. “These children are not appreciated at home, they are looking for somewhere to be appreciated and I offer that,” Mtukudzi said.
“Then I thought — let me look for a place where I can attend to the youngsters.” Set on a three-hectare (seven-acre) plot and equipped with a recording studio, multiple indoor and outdoor stages and accommodation chalets, the centre has fostered many musicians and performers since it was opened in 2004.
Mtukudzi allows students to just come along and try out instruments. He listens carefully and when he has identified which ones they are good at, he encourages them to practise hard.
His approach is to set them on the path to becoming self-taught, like he was, rather than being the teacher, but he helps them later on to fine-tune their talent.