HARARE.- Zimbabwean musician Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi, a star of Afro-jazz who won a following across the continent and beyond, died on Wednesday at the age of 66, his agent told AFP.
He passed away in hospital in Harare, succumbing to diabetes complications, according to various local media.
The lanky self-taught guitarist was a legend in the vibrant cross-genre music of Afro-jazz, with 66 albums under his belt in a career that spanned 45 years.
"Today we said goodbye to a true patriot. Oliver Mtukudzi, your voice has given us comfort during difficult times, and will remain with us for posterity," said President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Twitter.
"We've lost an icon," Zimbabwean lawmaker Temba Mliswa added, also on Twitter, leading the call for him to be declared "a national hero for his national contribution to the music, arts and culture industry".
Mtukudzi's work -- dubbed "Tuku music" -- was a mixture of ethnic styles, including the Zulu-rooted mbaqanga from South Africa, and drew on diverse instruments, including Zimbabwe's mbira, a metal-tined, hand-held instrument.
His lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.
He was rated by Forbes magazine one of Africa's 10 most bankable artists and some experts ranked him alongside Senegal's Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour for his innovation and influence.
He was also famed for his philanthropy and commitment to human rights, and served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN's children's agency Unicef.
In an interview with AFP last March, Mtukudzi played down the acclaim, saying "I don't even understand the word celebrity".
Instead, he said, he set great store by the words of his mother, who declared he would never sing a note better than his first scream after his birth.
"It means when I was born I had already started singing. This is who I am."
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change lawmaker and former education minister David Coltart also paid tribute.
"If anyone ever made me proud to be #Zimbabwean, it was you. Thank you for making us happy for so long, especially during the darkest days," he tweeted.
Tuku died exactly a year after his friend, the South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela.
He performed at Masekela's memorial in Johannesburg last year.
© Agence France-Presse