South Africa’s singing peacemaker
During his lifetime South African reggae star Lucky Dube was a man on a mission to make the world a better place.
“Hey you Rasta man. Hey European, Indian man. We’ve got to come together as one,” go the lyrics to his anti-apartheid hit Together as One.
Unity, peace, freedom and respect were Lucky Dube’s mantras.
At the age of 18 he recorded his first album playing traditional mbaqanga music, but it was a genre that he felt constrained his ambition.
“Mbaqanga is only known in southern Africa and it’s mostly sung in Zulu. I wanted my music to be heard – my message – not only in South Africa. Reggae music is found everywhere so reggae was my first vehicle to take this message across to people in the world,” the singer told the BBC shortly before his death.
South African music journalist Peter Makurube, who knew him before he made it big, says Dube had to fight his record company to take up reggae.
“At the beginning his record producers wanted him to do the more popular mbaqanga, so he couldn’t record any of his reggae songs – he sang those live at his concerts,” he told the BBC.
“He actually paid with his own money to record the reggae that finally made him famous.”
And his determination paid off for in the thousands upon thousands of tributes that were paid to Dube after his shooting on Thursday, it is his message that people remember.
“It takes me back to the early stage of the Liberian civil crisis when we were looking for food and shelter – for somebody to give us back hope. It was the voice of Lucky Dube that brought hope to many Liberians,” Liberian fan Tom Takor told the BBC on hearing about Dube’s death.
Like his musical mentor – the late reggae musician Peter Tosh – Dube was killed in a robbery.
Shots were fired at his car as he was dropping off his two teenage children in Johannesburg, in circumstances his 1999 track Crime and Corruption says are all too common in South Africa:
“Do you ever worry
About your car being taken away from you
In broad daylight
Down highway 54
Do you ever worry
About your wife becoming
The woman in black
Do you ever worry
About leaving home and
Coming back in a coffin
With a bullet through your head
So join us and fight this.”
Over his 25-year career it was not only his lyrics that spoke of pain and suffering.
“The melody comes with some sorrow,” Ghanaian musician Batman Samini explains.
“It tells exactly where he’s crying from. The right melody is carrying the right message to you. Most Ghanaians could tell South Africa’s grief through Lucky’s cry.”
Growing up during apartheid was not easy: Dube’s parents split up before he was born and he spent much of his childhood with his grandmother as his mother struggled to make a living as a domestic servant.
From an early age, he worked in gardens in white suburbs to pay for his schooling.
“South Africa has always been a very sad country – the racial divisions and the fact that Lucky came up the hard way explain his music – poverty and of course the early days in his career in the music industry was rough,” says Makurube.
But Dube went on to build a huge career, tackling a range of social problems, and was particularly loved in Africa where he drew huge crowds.
“It meant a lot to him that the continent loved his music,” says Makurube.
Yet his friends and fans say the fame never went to his head.
“Off stage he was very unassuming but definitely a tiger on stage,” says Makurube.
Shy, gentle, friendly and dedicated are words that have been used to describe the 43-year-old singer who despite his Rasta image did not smoke marijuana, cigarettes or drink alcohol.
He is survived by his new wife and seven children, including a three-month-old baby.
“Lucky would have wanted the world to remember him as someone who made a difference through his art, which I believe he did, his social messages people took to heart,” Makurube says.
“He didn’t try to commercialise his music for popularity. People got the message that he tried to send out.”
Story from BBC NEWS: