Ep. 14: Oliver Mtukudzi Part 2: Creative Zimbabwean Peacebuilding with Vurayai Pugeni
Our first in this series examined the music of Oliver Mtukudzi. In this episode, we extend this conversation, interviewing Vurayai Pugeni about his work as a peacebuilder with Grow Hope Globally, the Mennonite Central Committee, and Score Against Poverty. We explore the meaning of Tuku music in Pugeni's life and work. And then we turn to a fascinating story of the "Men Can Cook" cooking competition - An initiative that found an innovative and creative challenge to patriarchal structures and resulting food insecurities for families, women, and children.
Vurayai Pugeni is passionate about finding sustainable ways to end global hunger. He currently works as Humanitarian Relief and Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee. He has worked in Zimbabwe with local and international NGOs to implement and manage food assistance and agriculture and livelihood projects. I first met Pugeni through my collague Jon Rudy as we shared time of deep conversation with students on the challenges of migration and the deep work of peacebuilding.
Selected Albums - Recordings
Nhava - contains Tozeza Baba and Izere Mhepo
The Oliver Mtukudzi Collection: The Tuku Years - Contains Wasakara
Kyker, J. (2016). Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku music in Zimbabwe. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
1) For Pugeni, how would you describe the lived experience of Tuku Music? What spoke to Pugeni's life and work?
2) How are the ethics of continuous dialogue and bringing people together found in Tuku music?
3) What is the tension and experience of living in the diaspora?
4) How does the Men Can Cook competition approach many of the Tuku ethics through the work of creative solutions?
5) What might be creative solutions to approaching problems of patriarchal power relations in our own country?
How are you doing? Listeners, as we confront this epidemic together, I find so much solace in creating these podcasts and even more solace that so many listeners seem to find these podcasts meaningful in these times. I am so grateful that this seems to be so meaningful for so many. To support teachers during this time I would point you to some new resources that we are offering to form a bridge of connection and care. On April 2nd at 8:00 PM we will be offering a free webinar on the neuroscience of trauma with Dr. Gene Behrens so that we might all think about our sympathetic dorsal and our autonomic nervous systems and the way in which we respond and the way in which our children are responding. I invite you to visit our website under the resources page and under that same tab are also some resources for teacher education with full videos ready for use by music education courses.
And then in the coming weeks we will have more resources offered by some of our teacher educators who are part of our master's program and Dan Shevock who is curating resources on ecological care. I invite you into this podcast with one of my great heroes who I had the privilege of interviewing a few months ago - talking about the amazing creativity of his work in a way that offers me hope. Because if we all have this much creativity inside us and this much love and this much care, we can confront the very worst of our problems, together rather than alone. We will close this podcast as well with a poem of blessing in the hopes that this podcast may be a moment of solace, hope, inspiration, and creativity for each one of you. Blessings to you.
The interesting thing about Mtukudzi's music is that he chose his words carefully. So when you listen to the song, he doesn't say, Ooh, so because he doesn't say who he speaks to everyone because of the fact that he left his music to the interpretation of the listener. His music is very relevant today. It is also relevant tomorrow and I think that was one thing that he did very carefully. There.
you are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peace-building dot com exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. This podcast is produced in the digital humanities hub at Elizabethtown college.
Today we conclude with our second episode of the two part series on the peacebuilding ethic of Oliver Mtukudzi. If you are new to the music of Oliver Mtukudzi I recommend that you start with our first episode with Dr. Jennifer Kyker on hunhu and the life and legacy of Oliver Mtukudzi. We have the distinct privilege of interviewing a leading peacebuilder Vurayayi Pugeni as he discusses the impact of Tuku music and then move to a deeper discussion on the transfer of Tuku ethics to the men can cook competition, an innovative and creative approach to peace-building and rebalancing gender dynamics. Vurayayi Pugeni is passionate about finding sustainable ways to end global hunger. He currently works as humanitarian relief and disaster recovery coordinator for the Mennonite central committee. He has worked in Zimbabwe with local and international NGOs to implement and manage food assistance and agriculture and livelihood projects. I first met Pugeni through my colleague John Rudy. As we shared time of deep conversation with students on the challenges of migration and the deep work of peacebuilding. We begin with the end of a video produced by the Mennonite central committee where Pugeni communicates his philosophy of work.
I think that ending poverty and hunger is so important to our world because um, honestly a world that is very poor and a world with hungry people is definitely a world that cannot progress. It's a world that cannot move forward. Some people in my country have a saying, which says, a hungry man is an increment for sure. If you don't have adequate food, eat and for sure if you know that you don't know what you are going to eat the next day, tomorrow you are an angry man and it's very difficult for you to do really productive. Now let's talk for X. Let's take for example malnutrition rates in Africa. You will globally, the United nations is estimating that about over 2 billion people are malnourished. And if we are not going to all work towards trying to end hunger and poverty, then it means we are going to have more people who are dying because of malnutrition.
So from my point of view, this millennium development goal is very, very important because it addresses the essentials, the basics that which makes every other person be productive in whatever they are doing. And this could be because they had a meal a day. One more important thing that I would say it's important for us to address this is that for every other person, what gives you dignity is the ability to feed yourself and to feed your family. So if every person can have that ability, then it follows next that they can be citizens who can participate in constructing the rebuilding of their economy or their communities with dignity and pride. My name is Vurayayi Pugeni and I am making a difference
During our conversation Pugeni and I lost contact due to internet problems about 13 times. However, because of our backup recording method, we captured beautiful sound clips of Pugeni. Speaking to many of these issues. I have edited these clips and our first series of sound clips were responses to questions that I asked Pugeni about the music of Mtukudzi and how this music moved him and influenced his work.
Speaker 3 (06:41):
Mtukudzi's music is still relevant, it's national level, community level, family level and individual level. For example, I can give you at the individual level. There are songs like Wasakara, you know, [inaudible], you know, accept that you are now old or you are now worn out. So at individual level Mtukudzi is reminding us to actually accept that if some point in our lives we are no longer able to continue doing, we are not able to discharge our responsibilities well and in ways that can sustain peace in our communities or in our country. I know that a lot of people have said that that tune uh, is actually, you know, was actually referring to Mugabe at that point when the song was released in 2001 I think Mugabe was probably seventy seven years old. And, um, his party had just won a very disputed election a year before. So this song came on time when there was this conflict around the election and people really thought it was referring to Mugabe he was now old he had to step down.
But one thing that I really find to be interesting about Mtukudzi's music is that he chose his words carefully. So when you listen to the song, he doesn't see you. So because he doesn't say who he speaks to, everyone, you know, you can think it was Mugabe. You can also think of yourself. You can think of your grandfather, you can think of your father, you can think of any other person. And um, because of the fact that he left his music to the interpretation of the listener, his music is very relevant today. It is also relevant tomorrow. And I think that was one thing that he did very carefully there.
Jennifer Kyker writes that Mtukudzi's song on the AIDS epidemic was unique because it approached very sensitive issues of sexuality and disease through culturally sensitive ways. This is in direct contrast to many Western public health programs that attempted to approach AIDS directly, without considerations of cultural dignity, practices and norms. Pugeni speaks about his work of bringing people together challenging cultural norms while working from a respect for the rich heritage of cultural traditions.
So again, upheaval in most Zimbabwean communities was because of HIV and AIDS. So there was a lot of conflict around that. And Mtukudzi's voice is there to enhance and promote peace and to provide counseling awareness and also support to those people who needed some help or advice.
Correct. And that's exactly why we say in Zimbabwe Mtukudzi's music will be relevant yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever because he was not direct. And as such, he left the conversation, particularly the dialogue open for people to converse and talk about his approach. And I think that was phenomenal. And of course, um, there was the education piece, uh, the educational piece that was, that came with his music. Um, but one thing that I can tell you is that the grassroots mobilization, uh, for me personally, because I lost my father, uh, in 1995 and, uh, we had big challenges at home, inheritance issues. They were conflict, so Mtukudzi's message and music really strengthened me as we worked, we went through that difficult moment and at times I feel like that emotional healing, the emotional support he provided probably helped me to do the resilience to be able to continue on a peaceful path with my uncles rather than maybe a much more disruptive and hateful path with them.
So if you think about it, family level, you can, sample a few songs, which I always do, like, uh, there's no Shandra mori Django, which is about a man who is working for his family. There is Neria which is about a window that is lost, a loved one and it's really difficult, you know, and there's Fuma Inaka where he says, taking over inheritances is not a good thing, you know? So he was really looking at all of those areas where I would say he was really addressing areas where our own culture was really causing conflict in feud in families. So in other words, he was trying to address the cultural violence that exists in Zimbabwe. Not because everything about our culture is bad, but because certain aspects of the culture are harmful. You know, even at a community level, there's one song I really like, which is [inaudible] it's really a very funny song.
He's just saying, you know, take the child home. So usually young girls in Zimbabwe would just meet an older man who had resources and they would, because of their vulnerability, they are forced into a relationship with that person. And more often than not, uh, that person would take advantage of the girl and they would not let them go. They call. And in our culture, when the girl sleeps over, then she automatically has to be married. She cannot go back home - where were you? So you can no longer come. They call them. So a lot of girls were married just because of a sleepover. And sometimes the sleepover was even misunderstood. It was not because she was with the men. Perhaps it was because it was dark. She couldn't walk the long distance, back home. And she decided to stay to sleep over, you know, and sometimes she slept over with other girls, but it was always misunderstood. So Mtukudzi has a song called [inaudible], which means take the child home. The sun is now sitting, it's now getting late. So he's reminding people again of this tension that is happening to say when you have your social time together, be mindful of the time and make sure you take the child home before it's too late. So it's, it's so interesting how Mtukudzi's song, music really addressed some of those political systems, cultural systems or values and beliefs, religion, beliefs, sometimes topical issues like HIV and AIDS.
In the previous episode we spoke about Izere Mjhepo and the challenge of global migration and how Mtukudzi uniquely understood the challenges of leaving home, the pressure of being displaced, a unique voice that might address forthcoming challenges of global migration.
And, uh, of course the other one being the diaspora. I will talk about the diaspora for a little bit because I really feel like he did a great, great job talking about Nhava Izere Mjepo. Um, a song where he talks about a man who goes to the diaspora and the expectation is that it will be rosy, it will be nice, life will be good, but no life is never good there. There's a lot of suffering and now he has empty pockets. He doesn't have money. He's broke. And uh, Mtukudzi was really very intuitive and when these songs were sung, I was very young. I was in Zimbabwe. So having migrated to Canada, I even found a much profound and deeper meaning in these songs and the pressure that is there, the pressure that is there for the people in the diaspora, uh, to look after people back home because you know, things are tough in Zimbabwe. So the families in Zimbabwe, are really looking at this child in the diaspora for for help. They, they want you to be providing for everything. They don't know that, uh, you also have empty pockets. Nhava Izere Mjepo like what he says. So he is already addressing another challenge in big, huge conflict between people in the diaspora and the people back home and sometimes people in the diaspora feel pressured to impress and to provide everything. In the end they get into depression and it's no longer a very good situation
in a song that translates as return and be suckled Tuku spoke to the inferiority that many people in rural areas feel in comparison to city life. Mtukudzi said "after realizing a lot of people in the urban areas are suffering. It's a song that I was trying to inspire people to go back to their roots. If they remember their roots, they will always have something to do because it's their home. It's where they are supposed to be." Jennifer Kyker writes that this song quote "offers a reminder that forms of expressive culture, including songs, Proverbs, stories and dream narratives constitute intangible treasures on earth." Virayayi Pugeni speaks to this song.
Zokawe Agwe is about, uh, um, this child who goes to the diaspora, but because they are black, everyone thinks that they, because they are black, they cannot contribute. They, you know, so he even says, you see my blackness and you think I'm rotten or I am garbage, I cannot do anything. And then the mother in that song is passionately appealing to the son to say, come back, you know, you are my last born and come take home the, you know, the breast milk is waiting for you come back home. So he is also talking about racism and the discrimination that people face when they go abroad. And all of these are attention areas. Uh, these are all areas that actually lead to a lot of challenges. Uh, when you think of, uh, peacebuilding, I would say that, uh, I know you might have some questions, but I would quickly say that for me, um, when I look at, uh, Mtukudzi's music and his contribution towards peace building, I see that from multiple dimensions.
The first one, there's individual healing. So when you listen to music, the way he fuses modern instruments and the traditional instruments is just so amazing. And that on its own is also another opportunity, uh, for reconciliation. Because when you fuse modern music, he talks about issues that affect people day, daily. And that gives an opportunity for people to reflect and think about their circumstances, how they address issues and then perhaps think of better ways of addressing issues in peaceful ways. And another thing that I find very interesting is he fuses like traditional music Ngoma and Mbira with the uh, you know, with the latest music, I mean music instruments and when you use both. . . By using both instruments, the traditional ones and the more modern ones Tuku is actually bringing the young people in, the old people together. So his music appealed to both the youth and the adults together so they could listen to this very important message that he was passing across together. And uh, that was really unifying. And at the same time, it added value to the quality of his music.
The other level where I see impact on peacebuilding at family or individual level is the emotional healing. So Mtukudzi, really sang passionately with his Husky voice. He sang passionately about the challenges that particularly women and girls face and orphans. And in the process. He is really giving emotional support and emotional healing to those people as well. So I would say that, um, the wisdom and the way he said it, he was really a voice of the voiceless. So in some cases, peace building requires, for peacebuilding to happen there is a need for dialogue. And for that dialogue to happen, you need a leader who can start that dialogue. Uh, but now in most of our African societies, some issues are taboo, you don't want to talk about them. And other issues are just very difficult, uh, for the adults or for the traditional leaders to listen to because you cannot do that.
Uh, it's, uh, traditionally not expected. And in a patriarchal system, of course, women and girls would find it very difficult to voice certain concerns on certain issues. So Mtukudzi really open that opportunity to be a voice of the voiceless where he spoke passionately about the plight of widows through inheritance, through HIV and AIDS. It could be because of . . even this issue of people, men not really working hard for their families. So I think that was one thing. So other than opening dialogue for peace, I think Mtukudzi also assisted a lot with the grassroots mobilization for peace. So yeah. So that's all I can say about. Um, how much I love Mtukudzi's music. And what I hear from it.
Pugeni and I had a long conversation about what I find to be some of his and his colleagues, most brilliant work as a peacebuilder. And now having considered Oliver Mtukudzi. I see common threads, one, of the creativity of work that approaches a problem through a back door solution, two, of the maintenance of dignity, three of continuous dialogue and four of multiple readings of a problem and a solution for all those who are involved. The men can cook competition is an innovative approach to the problematic role that gender dynamics and patriarchal society play in systems of poverty and food insecurity. Funded by the Mennonite central committee and grow hope globally. The organization score against poverty wanted to move deeper into the gender dynamics of who processes food, who makes food and who gets to eat food.
Food availability does not translate into food access. The other thing that Score against poverty observed was, was that the gender dynamics, the gender inbalance in the community was actually creating more work for women. So in addition to working their fields, they were the ones that were then responsible for gathering the harvest, processing it, and preparing it into meals and serving the meals to men and women in the family, boys and girls as well. So the, um, understanding that complexity helped score against poverty come up with a very revolutionary approach to addressing those gender imbalances. So after considering all of those things, they actually discovered that there were areas that could bring men and women together and they were areas that could divide. So the wording or the way you talk about it when you're asking men and women to work together in the kitchen could actually be a divider.
But if you talk about it in a way that meets the value systems, beliefs and perceptions of men and women, it could actually be a connector. So what Score did was to come up with a cooking competition because they'd observed that men naturally tend to like cooking when they are paid to cook. I mean, I think it's the reality everywhere. Even here in North America, I see a lot of young men in restaurants serving us food with a very, very beautiful smile on their face because they are paid. I'm pretty sure that the situation is different if you are going to just ask them to be preparing meals everyday at home. So in this case, Score Against Poverty used this approach to stimulate, uh, or to encourage men to come to this cooking competition, cook and win prizes. So they, the whole, the transformational part of this strategy was not just the actual cooking.
The first thing that was transformational about this approach was that men were supposed to cook what they produce. So you have to prepare what you produce. So those were some of the ground rules to the cooking competition. The second thing was that everything that was going to be cooked should be from your field. So you're not going to buy it from someone, you have to produce it from your field. And then the third one was that you can learn to cook at home if you wanted. Your wife can teach you to cook, or you can actually have access to a home economics teacher who was hired to help with cooking classes in the villages. So men had a choice. Then finally, the competitions were going to be held in public. So men would have to cook in front of everyone. No one was going to bring food from outside.
They all had to bring their raw materials for cooking, or the ingredients had to be brought to the center. They had to be, uh, assessed by the judges, and then the cooking competition would start. So the first transformational impact of that strategy was that for the first time men and women were now working together on crops that are usually female or women crops. So these crops included vegetables, tomatoes, onions, pumpkin's, uh, sometimes legumes. So now men are now planting or paying attention to the growing of those crops because they know that for them to participate in the cooking competition, they really have to produce that the commodities that they will cook, all the products that they will cook. So in some ways, the long name for this competition is from the field to the pot cooking competition. So you have to start from the field and you come to a port and then you cook and you win a prize if you're good at cooking. People at first, were very excited by the idea, but they were very scared because it was revolutionary.
People were now going to learn how to cook and particularly men. And that was kind of embarrassing at first. But the desire to be champions, to win a prize and to show everyone in the village that they can actually do it because there's a tendency of men thinking that they can do well, whatever, eh women can do. So that's a perception that is always there. And those perceptions may not be accurate, but Score Against poverty was able to analyze those perceptions and use them to the advantage of women and girls. So men would then learn at home sometime in the first year, a lot of men were learning at night. They would hide at night and ask their wives to teach them how to cook. They wouldn't want to be seen learning how to cook. That was already a positive impact because now there was dialogue in the household about cooking. Something that would never happen.
So men are now talking to their wives about ingredients, about salt, about cooking oil, about how to press peanut butter for oil, about how to grow the tomatoes and onions. So immediately there was collaboration. Even at food level. The other immediate impact was increased access to fertile land for women. Because now that women were now intercropping their crops, their legumes with maize, which is usually a men's crop. So corn is usually the men's crop and legumes are usually the women's crops and traditionally women are given small pieces of land, um, just behind the house while men go and cultivate them. Most fertile and larger tracks of land away from the household. So now these two are working together, producing the legumes together because the men has to be a part of that production for him to be able to use it for the cooking competitions. So that was another impact of that strategy, an immediate impact.
He goes on to speak about the competition and the magic of giving men kitchen utensils as prizes. How can something as simple as an apron give agency to the rebalancing of gender dynamics?
So the first competition had about eleven men between 10 and 12 men Who wanted to cook. The whole village came to observe and to watch this men cooking. It has never been seen before in the village. They were all in their aprons and they were ready to compete. The competition was very successful and the man that men that won the prize was able to be, uh, given, uh, were given prizes. Now there was something interesting about the prizes as well. The prizes that were given, were not, were not the traditional men items. For example, in some communities, men have control on plows, cows, horse they, the, they have control farming implements They have control of all those high value tools. In this case, men were actually given kitchen utensils, as prizes by giving men kitchen utensils as prizes. It actually again opened another opportunity for dialogue. Now when you go to the village, you are likely going to come to a household where the men will say that was it.
That is my pot. I won it from a cooking competition. Just that conversation in a patriarchal society, it is revolutionary for men to also claim ownership of a pot that is very revolutionary. So those were some of the careful ways that Score Againsy Poverty navigated this from the field to the pot, men can cook competition. When I asked him, now that you have been the number one, uh, contestant, you have won this cooking competition, what are you going to do next? His answer was amazing. He said, I am now planning to go and cook for my inlaws. Again for us, for me to hear this answer in this, patriarchal society where a man has now been equipped with skills to work well with his family to produce all the food they need to cook and is now able to negotiate and to discuss with his wife or learn from his wife to a point where he is a champion and is even thinking of cooking for his in-laws.
I think that was just a huge impact. Like for me that was one indicator of the transformational change that is coming as a result of this new revolution in Monezi. So I would say that, uh, in brief, this is what score against poverty with support from the Mennonite central committee and grow hope globally are doing in Monezi and people are still curious to see how far this spontaneous adoption of these cooking competitions is going to grow. In terms of stimulating men and boys to cook in their households. What I can tell you for sure is that four years later when you go to that village, when you visit households in that village, you, I am 90% sure that you are either served food by a man or as you eat the food the men might talk about. I'm the one who made the sauce and I'm the one made this too and like they are really proud of showing off their skills. And what I find to be very amazing is that score against poverty has created a safe space for men, men to be involved and to do something that they've never thought they could do again.
Speaker 3 (33:05):
now that comes up with a lot of responsibility for women too, and more often people forget that sometimes. It is also important for us to pay attention to the way we receive generosity or to the way we receive change. So change is exciting. We all want to see change, but we had  top or pause to think about how are we going to receive this change? So score against poverty is working with women. Uh, this time not to teach them how to teach men to cook, but to teach them how to receive that willingness to learn to cook from men. So rather than passing bad comments, "I have taught you many times and you are not getting it." Comments like "you just cannot learn. You are not a good student" or comments like "all my life I have been cooking thanks, thanks to Score, You are now cooking today."
You know those things that can make men feel like they no longer want to cook again. So now this gender strategy is also amazing in that it gives the leadership to address a gender issue to men who in most cases are the perpetrators or who in most cases are the ones that are responsible for the pain and suffering of women. So it takes away the burden from the women and puts it in the hands of men. Then at the same time, again, it goes the opposite way to coach women, how to receive those men when they are now ready and willing to show or to offer or to change in terms of their habits. And their beliefs and even just their way of doing things. So it's a very different way. It's a different curriculum. Women are not meeting to discuss what is gender, why is it important?
Score Against, Score against poverty Believes that women already know why it's important. They already know the burdens. They are now meeting to discuss how do you receive the change that is now happening because of the work that is going on when men are learning how to cook. So cooking is now something we use to broaden the conversation to just more than cooking and we are, we are seeing a lot of practical benefits of that approach. It is very practical and they, it's very visible. People can come together and celebrate and in the process you are also transforming the way people look at cooking or view cooking and the way people view some of the household chores that are traditionally for women.
Speaker 3 (35:52):
I Marvel at the innovative brilliance of this work and how sometimes the answer to seemingly insurmountable problems, such as patriarchal power structures may be found in the very smallest acts of winning an apron. I hope Pugeni's story inspires you as much as it does mean and asks me to dig deep into our resources of humanizing creativity. Friends, as we all encounter the trauma of a global pandemic together, I invite you to take a deep breath with me.
[breath] The deep breath lowers the response of our sympathetic nervous system and calls us into the resources of creativity and social connection. Stay tuned to our professional development network with coming webinars on the neuroscience of connection and care. As I have engaged these podcasts, I have sought to build sacred space around secular topics in a way that might be as open to agnostic perspectives as it is to diverse religious perspectives. In light of our shared anxieties and the beautiful creativity of Pugeni and the legacy of Tuku music. I close with a blessing that we might hold close to our hearts in an era of anxiety. A call to love one another more deeply from the poetry and the blessings of one of my favorite poets, John O'Donohue from his blessing for freedom
as a bird soars high in the free holding of the wind, clear of the certainty of the ground, opening the imagination of wings into the grace of emptiness to fulfill new voyagings. May your life awaken to the call of its freedom, as the ocean absolves itself of the expectation of land approaching only in the form of waves that fill and pleat and fall, with such gradual elegance as to make of the limit a sonorous threshold whose music echoes back along the give and strain of memory. Thus, may your hearts know the patience that can draw infinity from limitation. As the embrace of the earth welcomes all we call death, taking deep into itself, the tight solitude of a seed, allowing it time to shed the grip of former form and give way to deeper generosity that will one day send it forth. A tree into springtime. May all that holds you fall from its hungry ledge into the fecund surge of your heart. I hope that we all may recognize fear and lean in to the deep restoration of love and connection.
Speaker 3 (39:26):
This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at Elizabethtown college. We host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. Thinking deeply. We reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at musicpeacebuilding.com.