In a life of struggle, Lucky Dube has somehow discovered a forgiving heart and he communicates that message to the people of his native South Africa and to a worldwide audience. His message expresses concern for women and children, and a hope for better communication between the races. Dube’s status as a poor Zulu tribesman in racially torn South Africa gave him a unique perspective. He became one of the most important voices in international music by embracing reggae, the first South African black to achieve stardom in that genre. The decaying regimeof apartheid in South Africa banned his album RastasNever Die in 1985, but it could not stop his growing popularity or cause him to be bitter. Lucky Dube survived the changes in government to record four multi-platinum albums and win numerous awards. After apartheid ended, Dube addressed other social concerns, such as drug use and the rampant commercialization that threatens native cultures around the world. His music mixes social criticism with a joyous, ecstatic dance beat.
Born into poverty in the town of Ermelo in South Africa’s Eastern Transvaal region, Lucky Dube began as a singer of native songs, the “mbaqanga” style of Zulu singing. His first group, the Sky Way Band, had a great deal of success, recording the album Bazolelenin 1983 and releasing a hit song “Zulu Soul.” In 1984 Dube starred in a movie, Getting Lucky and released the soundtrack from the movie as an album. However, the seventeen-year-old guitarist was dissatisfied with being merely a “native” singer. He looked outside the borders of South Africa for inspiration, and his search led him to Jamaican reggae: Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. According to Shanachie Records, Dube felt a powerful empathy for the Jamaican music, “[Reggae] is the one and only way of reaching the masses. I wanted to sing reggae for a long time because I felt it in me, but outside forces did not want to hear it and they kept it from happening. I finally just could not keep silent with that message and made the decision that reggae would be my life as a musician.”
His conversion to Rastafarian beliefs displeased his South African record company. The executives wanted him to make another profitable Zulu album. His politics also got him in trouble with the authorities. When his album Rastas Never Die was banned in 1985, sales were poor. He promised the record executives that he would record a “mbaqanga” album, but instead secretly went into the studio and recorded Think About the Children with his recently formed reggae band, The Slaves. The 1986 album was an immediate success and became the first gold album by a South African reggae artist. Even the name of his new band carried an ironic social commentary.
His next album was Slave in 1987. The title song was initially called “Liquor Slave” to avoid the censure of the authorities, but it clearly addressed social injustice. In form, the song is a typical pop love complaint about a man and his difficult lover. He tries to please her, against the advice of his friends. In substance, the song talks about the difficulty of personal and social liberation. He is only a legal slave, but his feelings for his country and its people render him unable to hate.
Dube is backed by a twelve-piece ensemble with three female singers, known as the “mothers of Soweto which never sleeps.” The effect is similar to an American gospel choir with a reggae beat—the backup singers providing a soprano chorus behind Dube as he leaps around the stage. He is a whirling dervish at his live performances, executing Zulu dances which involve high kicks in time to the music. All the while, he conveys his social commentaries on love, culture and politics in a calm, slightly ironic voice which slides up and down three octaves. He reminds some of Peter Tosh in his mid-range and evokes Smokey Robinson in his upper register. The instrumentation is African drums, electric organ, guitars, and bass; laterthe band added trumpet, trombone and saxophone. Several African styles, Dube’s traditional Zulu and West African Soca (Soukous), combine with elements of jazz, blues, and roots reggae.
Born 1967 in Ermelo, Eastern Transvaal, South Africa; name pronounced “doo-bay”.
Began as a Zulu “mbaqanga” singer; first group Sky Way Band; recorded hit song “Zulu Soul” first solo album Lengane Ngeyetha 1983; movie and soundtrack Getting Lucky 1984; inspired by reggae artists Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff; converted to Rastafarian beliefs and music; first reggae album Rastas Never Die banned in South Africa 1985; made rap record Help My Krap 1986; formed band The Slaves and recorded Think About the Children 1986; album Slave sold 300,000 copies 1989; toured France and United States; appeared in movie Voice in the Dark; album Prisoner went double-platinum 1990; Captured Live 1991; appeared at Reggae Sunsplash Festival in Jamaica 1991; toured Japan and Australia; House of Exile multi-platinum international hit 1992; album Victims sold more than 1 million copies 1993; returned to South Africa after reforms as South Africa’s foremost reggae artist; recorded album Trinity 1995.
Addresses: Record Company —Tabu, 229 Sunset Blvd., #813, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
year he released two more albums, Together As One and Prisoner, each of which sold several million copies worldwide. Prisoner -went double-platinum in South Africa in five days. The song “War and Crime” on Prisoner is a classic reggae commentary on the suffering of the innocent; typically, Dube attempts to reconcile the races with observations about the futility of placing blame: the black man blames the white man and the white man blames the black man. “Prisoner” observes that in the world of violence and distrust, we are all prisoners. Lucky speaks from the perspective of a schoolchild who is told that education is the key, but finds that more prisons are built than schools or hospitals.
After the release of Captured Live and House of Exileln 1991, he toured Japan and Australia. He was in demand as an opening act, playing with such Western celebri-tites as Peter Gabriel. In 1992, Dube was the first South African to play at Jamaica’s Sunsplash Festival. Although he plays a more traditional reggae style than some of the avant-garde performers, he was the hit of the festival. His optomism about women’s issues and children contrasts with more pessimistic views of the race question. In 1993 he released the album Victims, and, simultaneously, his first concert home video, Lucky Dube Live.
New themes in his work were the “Mickey Mouse” freedom after liberation and the dream of a culturally unified South Africa. In House of Exile (1991) Dube adopted the persona of a freedom fighter in the hills, worried about the destruction of his people by drugs, alcohol, and oppression. Victims (1993) promotes the struggle to integrate the different colors into one people. He appeals to the mothers of the world to save the little heroes of the struggle, their children. Trinity (1993) observes that before when he saw a white man, he saw an oppressor, and when white men looked at him they saw a criminal. After much destruction, he sees that every black man is not his brother, and not every white man is his enemy. He wants a new world that is a Kingdom of the Children, where there is genuine spiritual liberation, not a substitution of commercial exploitation for political oppression.
Lengane Ngeyetha, 1983.
Rasta Never Dies, 1985.
Think About the Children, 1986.
Slave, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1987.
Together As One, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1988.
Prisoner, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1989.
Captured Live, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1991.
House of Exile, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1991.
Victims, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1993.
Trinity, (Celluloid/Melodie/Shanachie) 1995.
Mulvaney, Rebekah, Rastafari and Reggae: a Dictionary and Sourcebook, 1992.
Artforum, November 1989.
Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 1994.
Ebony, March 1994.
Journal of Popular Culture, Winter 1991.
New York Times, October 11, 1992.
Reggae Report, No. 8, 1990.
Rolling Stone, September 16, 1993; February 24, 1994.