Mtukudzi says he’ll do all he can to protect the vulnerable and help promote HIV prevention.
“My passion for music comes from children. I have always dealt with children during my career,” said Mtukudzi, who was chosen last month for the post.
Tuku, as Mtukudzi is known to fans worldwide, is Zimbabwe’s first U.N. ambassador. Other U.N. children’s ambassadors include Susan Sarandon, Mia Farrow, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Jackie Chan and David Beckham.
“The honor is not for me alone but for the country,” Mtukudzi, 59, told The Associated Press at the arts center he built in the town of Norton, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Harare.
Oliver Mtukudzi began performing in 1977 and has released more than 40 albums and compilations of his hits in local languages and English since then. He has successfully toured Britain, Germany, other European nations, Canada and the United States as well as topping the bill at concerts across Africa.
His songs have been described by critics as a moral voice, tackling everything from discrimination to alcohol abuse.
The song “Todii?” (What can we do?) refers in the local Shona language to the problem of HIV-infected adults raping children in their care, and asks the listener to imagine the pain if their own child was abused that way.
“Some songs are reminders of where we are going wrong. The purpose of a song is to give life and hope to people,” he said.
Apart from being a singer and songwriter, Mtukudzi writes and directs films. One of his musical productions, “Was My Child,” highlights the lives of Zimbabwe’s street children.
Studies show that Zimbabwe has a growing number of street children, the result of years of political and economic turmoil, and they are often exposed to sexual exploitation in exchange for food, money and clothing.
“It is every parent’s responsibility to keep children out of the streets,” Mtukudzi said.
His songs have criticized political violence in his homeland and one hit, “Wasakara” (You are getting old), was seen as urging longtime authoritarian ruler President Robert Mugabe, now 87, to retire.
In 2007, he opened an arts center in Norton, to help young people pursue their dreams of becoming artists. Youngsters come to the center to try their hand in sculpture, art and music.
The Zimbabwean superstar tragically lost one of his five children in a car crash last year. Sam Mtukudzi, 21, was also a musician.
Tuku said parents often need to be encouraged to support the artistic aspirations of their children.
“Parents have the wrong attitudes toward their children being artists ... God gave these kids talent for a reason, to heal and give hope,” he said.