It is a testament to the spirit of his life and music that Lucky Dube will be remembered for decades to come for his massive contribution to the world of reggae and how he used its success to become a global mouthpiece for the struggle against Apartheid. Originally published in one small seed magazine, issue 15 ’09. Words by Sebastian Stent.

Even in death, Lucky continues to stand for a potent cause. His brutal murder has become a key motivator in the fight against crime. The lack of humanity shown by its perpetrators has led some to call for the reinstatement of the death penalty to help curb the country’s ridiculously high murder statistics. But this is at odds with the life of Lucky Dube, who throughout his career was a powerful voice of peace, love and understanding. Dube was born in 1964 in the town of Ermelo, Mpumalanga (what was then the Eastern Transvaal). He and his siblings, Patrick and Thandi, were raised single-handedly by their grandmother. Later in life, Lucky described his grandmother as his greatest love – a woman whose many sacrifices led him to grow into the great man he would one day become. Lucky Dube discovered Rastafarianism at school, and at 18 he joined his cousin’s band, The Love Brothers. They played mqabanga, an upbeat brand of Zulu pop, and signed to Richard Siluma’s Teal Records in 1980.

Dube was still at school and funding his ambitions by working as a car auction security guard, and so it is miraculous that despite such a busy lifestyle he was still able to find the time to record an album in Johannesburg. Lucky Dube and the Supersoul released their first album Lengane Ngeyethu in 1981 and over the following five albums Lucky Dube learnt to refine his style and hone his lyrical abilities. However, his ambitions were focussed in a different direction from the mqabanga style with which he was becoming synonymous.

Dube had seen amazing synergy between the ethos of the Jamaican reggae movement and the political issues of Apartheid South Africa.

He had received positive responses from the few reggae songs that he had played live, and so, in 1984, he released a mini solo album called Rastas Never Die. While his mqabanga records were selling well in excess of 30 000 copies an album, Rastas only sold about 4 000 units, and was censored by the Apartheid government in 1985. These hardships would deter lesser men, but Dube saw this as an affirmation of his cause and pursued it all the harder. He was right.

Over the next twenty years, Lucky’s success spanned the globe, with his albums winning a total of five OKTV awards in the late eighties and early nineties. In 1993, his album Victims sold more than a million copies. After signing a recording contract with Motown in 1995, Lucky released his seminal Trinity album, following it up in 1996 with Serious Reggae Business for which he won the ‘Best Selling African Recording Artist’ at the World Music Awards. Dube’s success grew in leaps and bounds over the next ten years, with his next three albums each earning SAMA awards and his final album, Respect, immediately snapped up by Warner Music for its international release. A prolific showman, Dube recorded 22 albums over his 25-year career and was able to cross the cultural boundaries by recording in three of our national languages: Zulu, English and Afrikaans.
Although he toured extensively, performing alongside superstars such as Sinéad O’Connor, Sting and Peter Gabriel, he was a dedicated South African, a proud father, and a stalwart of his local community. Despite being a Rastafarian,

Dube eschewed the Rasta tradition of smoking dope and maintained a health-conscious lifestyle.

However, as is often the case in this time of senseless crime, Dube’s life was cut short by murderers who neither knew who he was, nor cared about the role that he had played in bringing worldwide attention to the plight of South Africa. It was while dropping off two of his children at their uncle’s house in Rossettenville that Lucky Dube was murdered – shot by a gang of five intent on stealing his car.

The outpouring of grief was heard across the world, with the love that was felt for him in South Africa particularly palpable. Lucky was a man who personified the goodness, talent and personal power of all South Africans – that ‘can do’ attitude that sets us apart, the belief in ourselves that allows us to rise up and pursue our dreams, despite enormous adversity and difficult circumstances. His life – and death – are filled with lessons to us all: to trust our instincts, follow our passions, and remember at all times that whatever we have can be taken away in an instant.

Words: Sebastian Stent

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