By Ogova Ondego
Published October 28, 2007
The slaying of the South African reggae musician Lucky Dube in a Johannesburg neighbourhood on September 18, 2007 is quickly proving that the place that was once seen as the dream country for Africa is fast turning into a nightmare as violent crime spirals out of control. Borrowing from the traditional mourning styles of the abaLuyia and Luo communities of western Kenya that put the deceased’s life in the context of the setting of one’s life, OGOVA ONDEGO pays tribute to Lucky Phillip Dube as he is laid to rest on October 28, 2007.
A musician who had done almost everything in his power to promote tolerance, unity andÂ transformation among humanity through his work, it is inconceivable how his life could be ended so casually by hooligans bent on stealing his car in a country in which violent crime is spiraling out of control while authorities sleep.
It was in 1990 when I first heard some catchy music playing on a stereo in a classmate’s university room. Among the songs I heard were Reggae Strong, Remember Me, and Prisoner. Till then I had been averse to reggae music as I was opposed to the lifestyle associated with it.
However, my perception of reggae changed that evening when I heard South African Lucky Dube sing about “Reggae in the bathroom, reggae in the bedroom, reggae everywhere.”
Like a priest’s message, Lucky Dube’s music has continued to speak and to be enjoyed by hordes of people across the world.
Having started as a musician who performed and recorded mbaqanga, a traditional message-based Zulu genre of music, Dube said he adopted the international reggae style as it had a higher and wider platform than the tribal mbaqanga.
“I wanted my music to be known all over the world. This couldn’t have been possible with Zulu-based mbaqanga. So I chose reggae as it is known all over the world,” Dube once told BBC.
However, Dube did not abandon the message espoused in Mbaqanga. Although using modern styles, he ensured his music was flavoured with his mbaqanga roots. True, his music went through evolution. But it did not lose its African identity. In my career as a journalist, I took Dube’s music as an example of how artists in the developing world should act. Though their work should seek to appeal to international tastes, it should be unmistakably their own.
Although he said he had been influenced by Peter Tosh as “I liked everything that Peter Tosh did and he made me to like reggae,” Dube said he remained true to his roots in terms of guitar work and keyboards, and music arrangement that gave his music the feel of an African brand of reggae.
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Dube said he also did not smoke ganja (bhang) that Tosh took and promoted.
Singing about “things people relate to and things that have happened to me or to people around me,” Dube’s message changed with the advent of black majority rule in South Africa in 1994.
“In the past I sang about togetherness, one love, unity but not respect. You can’t love someone if you don’t respect them,” he explained why his latest album–released in April 2006–had been named Respect.
Songs like Remember Me, Together as One, Prisoner, and Different Colours will live on despite the cruelty visited on Dube on that dark October 18, 2007 night.
Born on August 3, 1964, Dube is said to have
remained without a name for six months as it was thought he would die like his predecessor. It did not help much that he was a sickly child. He was named Lucky after the six months had elapsed without his dying, he told BBC Radio in an interview.
The late Dube is said to have ventured in music at the age of 18 when he joined The Love Brothers, a band led by his cousin. He later recorded his first album with the Super Souls Band in 1982.
Four years later and with five mbaqanga albums to his credit, he opted for the more international reggae genre, recording his first album, Rastas Never Die. This is said to have been the first reggae album in South Africa and as expected, the then ruling minority South African Apartheid regime banned it as it was considered subversive.
“The reggae message threatened the Apartheid government,” Dube said.
In a career that spanned 25 years, Dube recorded 22 music albums, performed to hundreds of people across the world, filled up stadia across Africa, and won awards and accolades globally.
If there ever was anything that Dube proved, it was that African artists must develop a prophetic identity of their own instead of aping their Western counterparts for profit at the altar of commerce.
It is for this very reason that the killing (or was it execution?) of Dube in what is said to have been a botched car-jacking incident hurts so much and puts a face to the often under-stated official government statistics that at least 50 people are murdered daily in South Africa while a woman is raped every 40 seconds.
Over the past three years life has been snuffed out of two other creative South Africans I knew while two Kenyan filmmakers came close to losing their lives on their way into Johannesburg city from the airport soon fter landing in South Africa. And know what? The two Kenyans confided in me that they were prevailed upon not to publicise the unfortunate event as it would portray South Africa as unsafe and insecure and hence discourage foreigners from visiting and investing in the country. See why I say the official crime statistics are under-stated?
But what has this got to do with the shooting to death of Lucky Dube, one may be asking?
South Africa’s criminal justice system and laws appear to be ‘criminal-friendly’. Despite the crime rate that is galloping out of control, the death penalty is not part of the justice system and criminals are not severely punished to discourage them from crime. That South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world gives criminals a lee way to rob, kill and plunder with abandon.
It is only in South Africa where thugs armed to the teeth waylay police-escorted cash-in-transit vehicles and take away the cash, dolling out violence generously should any one get in their way.
It is only in South Africa where thugs are revered and films like Tsotsi that glorify their dangerous lifestyles are made and Hollywood bigwigs lobbied to give them awards perhaps to normalise crime?
It is only in South Africa where young male college students work as pimps for their female teenage colleagues at parties to sell them to lonely travellers.
It is only in South Africa where so-called ‘previously disadvantaged communities’ must eat while their ‘previously advantaged communities’ counterparts watch passively, their hungry stomachs rumbling.
It is only in South Africa where racism and tribalism are destroying institutions as the nation seeks to replace white people with blacks, never mind the qualifications of the latter.
It is only in South Africa where the gap between the rich and the poor is rising extremely fast and corruption, often hushed up, is on the increase.
It is only in South Africa where the President denies AIDS is caused by HIV while the health minister promotes beetroots, garlic, carrots and other vegetables over anti-retroviral drugs.
It is only in South Africa where a cold shower after unprotected sex with a person living with HIV/AIDS prevents one from being infected.
It is only in South Africa where sex with a baby cures one of HIV and AIDS.
It is only in South Africa where the Politburo-kind of socialist/communist-styled ‘elections’ take place but the charade is still referred to as democracy.
It is only in South Africa where…
Do you see why many people, mainly whites, are fleeing the southern African country that retired Anglican Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu fondly christened the ‘rainbow nation’ and the late Lucky Dube sang about as ‘Different Colours One People’ in an attempt to celebrate and embrace its multi-racial composition?
In mourning Dube, Gallo Records that produced his music, described him as “one of the country’s most toured and beloved artists ever. His music touched millions around the world, primarily through his 22 recorded albums – in Zulu, English and even Afrikaans.”
Though born in South Africa, the Gallo statement said, Dube was revered globally.
“As a frontline artist in the reggae genre, Lucky’s creativity and inventiveness kept growing. Compelling in his musicianship and intriguing in his lyrical content, Lucky’s sonic daring to take his genre to new heights never failed to amaze even the most ardent fans, whilst reigning in new devotees to his magic every day.”
The late Dube had just signed a deal with Warner Music International, securing him album releases across Europe of his latest album, Respect, Gallo Records say.
As Lucky Dube is laid to rest today, I, like Velaphi Ndlovu, an Inkatha Freedom Party Member of Parliament, challenge the South African government to deny or confirm that it is “in denial about crime and are refusing to admit to the size and severity of the problem. Government apathy is what leads to 50 murders daily in this country.”
Like Hansie Louw of the African Christian Democratic Party, I call for the reinstatement of the death penalty for there to be respect for life and a reduction in the senseless killing of people as happened to Dube and numerous other hapless people in South Africa.
It is important for South Africans to look afresh at their national institutions, place in place an effective law enforcement system and elect a President who identifies with the woman and man in the street and is ready to use the law enforcement machinery in punishing crime not only severely but also promptly. Unless this is done, it is to only a matter of time before this lovely country becomes a failed state despite its enormous wealth and potential.