Five Easy Clips Presents: Lucky Dube

If Bob Marley is to roots reggae what Buddy Holly was to rock n’ roll, who are John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Mick Jagger?

Some are fairly well agreed upon as masters of the genre: Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Jimmy Cliff, of course… Who else? It’s all matter of opinion, but I’d say that Lucky Dube deserves to be listed among these greats.

Though he’s been a star in South Africa for the past three decades, Lucky has yet to break North America and Europe. Perhaps because he was so far removed from the Jamaican scene that he has remained mostly unknown except amongst die-hard reggae fans and the small but influential World Music community, who have been raving about him for quite some time.

Let’s see what the fuss is about…

NOTE: If you only have time for one clip, make it #2

Born in 1964 to a single mother in eastern South Africa. “Lucky” – the first born child after many miscarriages – was raised by his grandmother. His family was poor, but he still went to school. He joined his cousin’s band playing Zulu pop music (mbaqanga) while working as a security guard, and soon became front-man. Here is some great sounding mbaqanga, a short clip from Umadekeni:

“The people in general have got a life time together. So we must not allow politicians really to mess up our lifetime togetherness just in their five years..”

At school he discovered the Rastafari movement, and remained a follower for the rest of his life. It should be noted that he abstained from ganja, and was more interested in the political messages and how it could be used to change society along with making individuals’ lives more fulfilling.

In 1984, after five mbaqanga albums the band had their first reggae release. It was banned. However, their second attempt did very well, earning him nationwide stardom.

Here’s Slave from 1989. I think it’s the best song I’ve heard about alcoholism. Yeah the video’s hokey, but in a good sort of way.

” ‘If you live in a glass house don’t throw stones, if you can’t take blows, don’t throw blows…’, I mean, that was a good message for me, because I mean, that’s maybe how I live my life and that’s how I lived my life even in the past!”

If you’re a reggae fan, you may have noticed a strong affinity with Peter Tosh. You’re not wrong; Dube claimed that he was the one who inspired him to join Rastafarism.

He sang many anti-government songs, which was of course illegal, but they sold very well anyway. Dube became a voice fighting against the regime in it’s final years. The next song became somewhat of an anthem among blacks and coloureds in the country. From 1990, here is Prisoner:

“In South Africa the government in the past did not like Reggae music, because of the message. It became a threat to the South African government at that time… anything that had to do with oppression, where you talked about oppression in your music, the South African government would just throw away immediately.”

The Anti-Apartheid movement was gaining momentum in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and consequentially, white Anti-Apartheid radio stations appeared. The government didn’t censor defiant whites as much as blacks so the next song, Together as One, (1988) became his first song to be widely played accross South Africa.

Lyrics: In my whole life, I’ve got a dream / Too many people hate Apartheid. Why do you like it? / Hey rasta man, hey European, Indian man we’ve got to come together as one / The cats and the dogs Have forgiven each other, what is wrong with us? / All those years fighting each other But there’s no solution.

“Well, yeah, the message was a powerful message, you know. Because in that song for the first time I didn’t, like, beat about the bush, I just said things straight, with risking being arrested or being shot by the government or risking the album being banned or something like that. But, cause I wanted to get that message of togetherness across, you know. I risked all that and fortunately it worked.”

Alas, this article cannot have a happy ending. One night in October 2007, after dropping two of his children off at their uncle’s in Joburg, Dube was shot dead by carjackers. He was 43.

It was an immense tragedy for his family, friends, and fans. For a long time afterwards it seemed like you couldn’t talk about the man without the conversation turning to the events of his terrible death. Wounds heal, though. Who wouldn’t want to spread the joy the way he did and continues to do?

One thing about his music is that because it’s so laid-back, it’s easy for us to forget how hard it can be to make a really good song. This next clip is a perfect example. The lyrics haven’t a single rhyme, they just seem to be pouring straight from the heart. But behind it all there’s a master craftsman.

There IS a music video for this song, and usually I prefer to include visuals, but I think this song goes just as well alongside only the lyrics. Some nice South African Gospel in there too. So here’s It’s Not Easy:

“Even though we try to make him, we change him. Everybody wants to make God their own. As a Zulu-speaking person I would say maybe Shagga the King, Shagga was actually God. And this one and that one will say this and that. But there´s just one God.”

See you soon with another “Five Easy Clips”!

Got any clips to recommend? Please write ’em in the comments!

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You can read Adam’s other posts on PP [here]

  • temba

    Yes very interesting. Death always makes us take notice more and passing on his music and culture is a good thing. Thanks.