Lucky Philip Dube
Lucky Dube was born on a small farm near Ermelo in the eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga). His mother, Sarah, considered his birth after a few unsuccessful pregnancy attempts so fortunate that she named him “Lucky”. She was the only breadwinner in the family as she had separated from her husband before Lucky’s birth and was forced to leave Lucky and her other two children, Thandi and Patrick, in the care of her mother. She earned such meagre wages in her job as domestic worker that she was barely able to send money back home for her children. Lucky’s father drank heavily and he had little contact with him – a fact which influenced his career and caused him to shun alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
Lucky started to work in the gardens of White people at an age when most other children enter school. He worked for a few years before joining school with the intention to earn more money to support his family. He excelled at school and found his great love in life – music. He was part of the choir and soon became choir leader, a role in which he was so successful that his choir was placed third in an inter-school competition – a first in the history of the choir. Lucky now found school a safe haven and his popularity amongst his teachers and fellow learners soared.
Lucky found some musical instruments by chance in a school cupboard one day and he and some friends formed his first musical ensemble, The Skyway Band. This was cut short when a teacher discovered their activities and locked the instruments away.
In 1982, while still at school, Lucky joined his cousin Richard Siluma’s band called The Love Brothers, playing traditional Zulu music known as Mbaqanga. Lucky's first album, recorded in Johannesburg during school holidays with The Love Brothers, was released as Lucky Dube and The Supersoul. He was the lead singer but did not write any of the material. Around this time he began to learn English, having started his schooling in Afrikaans. While at school he discovered the Rastafari movement. Though he did not consider himself a Rasta in the traditional sense, his dreadlocks and espousal of Jah (God) lent him the air of a Rastafarian.
His second and third albums, in which he was more involved with lyric writing, soon followed. The sales figures were beginning to hit gold status and people had begun to notice him. Because of his mother’s concern about the uncertainty of a musical career, Lucky swore to complete school. After release of his fourth album, he was beginning to make real money. Around the time of his fifth Mbaqanga album, Lucky met Dave Segal who was to become his long-time engineer, recording every one of Lucky's albums in the future. They developed a very successful working relationship.
As the crowds loved his reggae tracks Reggae Man and City Life, which he introduced into his performances, the two decided to record a full album of reggae songs and judge the response to that. Drawing inspiration from Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh, they felt the socio-political messages associated with Jamaican reggae were relevant to the institutionally racist society in South Africa.
That set the future course of Lucky’s career. His reggae lyrics were social messages aimed at the struggle of the Black man, whilst still maintaining a commercial sound. His first reggae mini-album Rastas Never Die, appearing in 1986, was a complete financial failure. It was not as popular with the audiences and, in addition, the South African government, fearing apartheid activism, banned the album. That did not deter him, however, and he slowly included more and more reggae tracks into his live performances. As time passed, the audiences liked it increasingly and he became associated with this new sound. Lucky’s second album, Think About the Children, reached platinum status in South Africa and established him as one of the country’s biggest stars.
Lucky continued to release commercially successful albums. In 1989 he won four OKTV Awards for Prisoner, won another for Captured Live the next year and another two for House of Exile in 1991. He appeared at the 1991 Reggae Sunsplash, where he was invited back on stage for a twenty-five minute long encore. His 1993 album, Victims sold over one million copies worldwide. In 1995 he earned a worldwide recording contract with Motown. His album Trinity was the first release on Tabu Records after Motown's acquisition of the label. Serious Reggae Business, a compilation album released in 1996, won him the title of “Best Selling African Recording Artist" at the World Music Awards and the "International Artist Of The Year" at the Ghana Music Awards. His next three albums each won South African Music Awards. His most recent album, Respect, earned a European release through a deal with Warner Music. Lucky shared international stages with artists such as Sinéad O'Connor, Peter Gabriel and Sting. He also performed in the 2005 Live 8 event in Johannesburg. With an astounding twenty-one albums to his name, he earned over twenty awards for his musical contributions - both in South Africa and internationally.
Lucky acted in the feature films Voice In The Dark, Getting Lucky and Lucky Strikes Back.
He was a humble man with a down-to-earth approach and superb musical taste and genius - an artist with a message, with a reason and a rhyme behind everything he did and in touch with his audience.
On October 18 2007, Lucky Dube (43) was brutally shot and killed in front of his son and daughter in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, by car hijackers. He is survived by his wife, Zanele, and his seven children.