While most reggae artists were bemoaning South Africa’s Apartheid government throughout the 1980s, Lucky Dube was living the struggle firsthand.
Born in Ermelo, in South Africa’s Eastern Transvaal state, Dube’s route to discovering reggae was unusually convoluted, due to Apartheid-era censorship. As a child he worked as a library assistant in his school, where he pored over encyclopedias in search of entries on African history. Eventually he came across pieces on Rastafarianism and reggae, both of which fascinated him. Soon he saved up enough money to purchase his first Peter Tosh records, the only reggae albums allowed in South Africa at the time. He bought his first guitar not long after that.
Meanwhile, the young singer was expressing himself with traditional southern African music, forming his first band while still in school. Dube’s talent came to the attention of a relative who happened to be a record producer, and in 1979 he launched his career as a mbaqanga singer. He made his first recording in1982 as a member of the Love Brothers band, and in 1983 released his solo debut, Lengane Ngeyetha, which gave him his first hit single and gold record. Over the next two years he would record Kukuwe and two traditional Zulu albums.
But Dube was still captivated by reggae, and in 1985, without the knowledge of his record company, he slipped into the studio to record Rastas Never Die, the first reggae album ever recorded in South Africa. Full of Rasta-inspired, black empowerment imagery, the album was banned immediately. But subsequent albums, like 1986’s Think About The Children, and 1987’s Slave, slipped past the censors, and created a sensation both at home and abroad.
Slave was particularly well received, thanks to his tight backing band, the Slaves, who helped Dube perfect his languid roots sound (largely cribbed from the classic “one drop” sound of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley). In 1988 popular demand forced his label to re-release Rastas Never Die, and the following year Dube toured abroad for the first time, finally connecting with reggae fans from all over the world. <