five best-selling albums in the early to mid-’80s, Lucky Dube was at the top of
the musical heap in his native South
Still, realizing he hadn’t reached all that lofty a perch,
Dube cut a reggae disc — despite his record company.
"I was performing mbaqanga and singing all my lyrics in
Zulu," Dube (doo-BAY) recalled recently from a tour stop in Cincinnati.
"And not that many people can speak Zulu."
Yet the move to reggae, he insisted, wasn’t financially
"Peter (Tosh) and Bob (Marley) — the
things they sang about in Jamaica
were things that were happening to us back in South Africa in the 1980s," he
said. "I wanted to tell the whole world about my
situation back home. And I knew that would not be possible in my native Zulu
"I had to get my message out in a language (English)
that most people knew in a style (reggae) recognized around the world."
His 1984 album, Rastas Never Die, became a commercial
disappointment, selling only 4,000 copies (his mbaqanga discs routinely sold
30,000), but it laid the groundwork for his future.
By the end of the ’80s, he was recording and performing
reggae — as he’ll do tonight in the Alrosa Villa — almost exclusively.
"We went to Japan, and the people asked, ‘What
kind of music do you play?’ And I told them, ‘I play reggae music.’ They didn’t
understand reggae music, so I said, ‘I play Bob Marley music,’ and they all
nodded their heads: ‘Oh, yes, Bob Marley music.’
"Reggae is truly everywhere on
His 1987 disc, Slave, sold 500,000 copies and solidified his
place in reggae.
The peak was yet to come, though: The 1989 album Prisoner
sold more than 2 million.
Q : When apartheid was
finally cast down in South
Africa , how was your music affected ?
A: We could not sing "Release
Mandela" anymore, but there are so many things to sing about. Even at the
time of apartheid, that wasn’t the only social issue; there were others. And
just because apartheid was over, that didn’t mean everything became right.
Q : Do you find it discourag ing
that reggae has preached a message of community and brotherly love for 40 years
, and the world remains a mess ?
A: In a way, it
does discourage you. And we’re still very far, I think, from having people
treating one another fairly, justly, equally — but maybe someday, we hope.
On the new album, the title track is Respect, and that’s
what we’re talking about. In the past, we spoke of one love, of unity and
peace, but we forgot to talk about respect.All of those things we talked about
in the past would be possible, but first we need to respect one another.
If I lived next door to somebody who practiced some religion or social way of
life I don’t agree with, but if I respect them and they respect me, then we
won’t have a problem; we will be cool.
you’re still hopeful ?
A: Yes, I’m hopeful. America has had
freedom for a long time, but you still don’t have it completely together; you
still don’t have equality, brotherhood, one love. It’s the same way with Africa.
So, if even countries like the United States, which was
built on freedom and has been going on for hundreds of years, and America is
still battling with equality and justice — well, then maybe equality and justice
take a long time