'Bury down apartheid!'


Lucky Dube
Available on CD and cassette
Through SBS Music/BMG Records
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Seeing Lucky Dube and his 13-piece band live is an exhausting experience. Just watching this dynamic two-hour non-stop performance centred on Lucky's unflagging energy and spectacular dancing is enough to make you wilt. On top of that, his politically charged blend of the reggae beat, mbaqanga soul and a marvellously swinging horn section creates an irresistible urge to jump about.

Before Lucky's Paddington gig, on October 4, I wondered if it was really true that this person could pack 70,000 people into concerts back home in South Africa. By the end of the first few songs, I was convinced. Lucky Dube's exuberant performance and powerful vision of racial unity, an end to apartheid and discrimination explain the remarkable fact that he has sold more recordings in South Africa than Michael Jackson has sold in the USA.

Prior to his Sydney shows, Lucky Dube spoke to Green Left about his music and his message. When just a young boy, he first heard the songs of the reggae greats Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff.

"Playing music was difficult because we could not afford to buy instruments. But listening to the radio, we could hear music ... You wouldn't hear [reggae] all the time because it was not very popular with the government. It still isn't."

Lucky began a promising career in 1979 making mbaqanga pop records — he made four, all of which went gold — but switched to reggae in 1985. "A lot of people think reggae is from Jamaica ... Reggae is from Africa, it was only popularised in Jamaica. The way I play my reggae, it's got the African roots in it. It's got the mbaqanga feel in it.

"I loved reggae for the message in it. The music itself is different. The beat is very easy to relate to, but it is the message that got me into it.

"The message is the coming together of the people — black and white — because when we read in the Bible about the creation of the earth, the Bible tells us that humans were created in the image of God. It does not tell us whether God was black or white. So I believe we are God's children, we are God's image and we belong together, black and white.

"As far as I'm concerned, apartheid and discrimination don't only happen in South Africa. It is only South Africa that happens to have it in its books ... This is a message to people over the whole world, not just in South Africa. Apartheid and discrimination are all over the world."

This message permeates his shows and his excellent new album, his first to be released in this country, Prisoner. The album showcases Dube's soul/reggae and thoughtful lyrics. The best track is "War and crime", a stirring cry for young black, white, coloured and Indian South Africans to unite to put an end to it started you and I were not there so
Why don't we
Bury down apartheid
Fight down war and crime
Racial discrimination
Tribal discrimination
The title track describes a society that builds prisons rather than schools. "False Prophet" attacks the hypocrisy of some Christians who condone racism. In "Dracula", that notorious bloodsucker "talks like the new state president".

Music is a powerful force for change, Lucky told Green Left: "Music goes where no politician goes, music goes into each and every house that has a radio ... People listen to my music, some of them do get the message ... I think it's very powerful. Everybody listens to it, even people who are not involved or aware of politics but through the music they get the message."

The apartheid regime unsuccessfully tried to suppress his music. "When I started out, the first album I had was banned. They wouldn't play it on the radio or TV simply because of the message. The message became a threat to the government officials. They would sometimes come to my shows, listen to the things I said ... I used to, when writing a song, maybe try to have a hidden message, but now that doesn't happen. I just write my songs the way I want to."

Fortunately, the regime did not silence him and the many other talented artists from South Africa who are finally coming to our attention.

Reading Green Left online is free but producing it isn't ...

Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls, but we depend on your support to survive.