Lucky Dube: South Africa’s Reggae Giant, International Postcolonial Poet and Philosopher

Lucky Dube: South Africa’s Reggae Giant, Rastafarian Humanitarian, International Postcolonial Poet & Philosopher

Lucky Dube: South Africa’s Reggae Giant
Art by: Ashi Kariuki (Kenya)
‘…Hey, you government, never try to separate the people
Hey, you politician, never try to separate the people…
They were created in the image of God, and who are you to separate them?
Bible says, He made man in his image, but it didn’t say Black or white.
Look at me, you see BLACK. I look at you, I see WHITE
Now is the time to kick that away and join me in my song.
We’ re different colours, one people. Different colours, one people. Hey, you politician, never separate the people here. Hey, you man hey you man, never try to separate the people
Some were from America. We were from South Africa.
Some were from Japan. We were from China.
Some were from Australia. We were from the U.K.
Some were from Zimbabwe. We were from Ghana.
Some were from Jamaica. We were from Russia”
Lucky Dube
Different Colours, One People, 1993

“Lucky Dube is the only non-Jamaican who continuously [and only] used reggae music and it gave him a space in the heart of the Jamaican people to say, ‘here is an African who is using reggae music and who has gotten over with reggae.” Mutabaruka 2012 Interview

Written by: DaQuan Lawrence

Introduction: A Fallen International Icon

The first quote above addresses the significance of racial and ethnic solidarity among humanity despite nationality, geography, and political, social, and economic differentiation. The second quote acknowledges Lucky Dube’s role in the pantheon of artists and musicians as an Africa-born reggae artist. Dube used his music to advocate for unity, human rights, humanitarian aims, and to offer social commentary on social and political issues affecting marginalized populations within the Republic of South Africa (RSA), the African diaspora, as well as the international community. As the 15th year commemoration of Lucky Dube’s impact and legacy approaches, it can be argued that his influence can be compared to the likes of other musical icons who addressed social issues such as Tupac Shakur, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, and Bob Marley.

Born August 3, 1964, Lucky Philip Dube was a reggae musician, Rastafarian, and South Africa’s biggest selling reggae artist, who recorded 22 albums in isiZulu, English and Afrikaans in a 25-year period. Dube was tragically shot and killed at the age of 43, in an attempted vehicle hijacking in Johannesburg on October 18th, 2007. Dube used Dub as a platform to promote racial equality within Africa during the Apartheid regime. He used his music to frame philosophical arguments about the African slave trade, colonialism, and how Africa must benefit those racially identified as Black.

This article considers Dube’s musical career, international impact, cultural significance, and lyrical content, and argues that Dube was an international Rastafarian humanitarian, postcolonial poet, and philosopher. The article seeks to critically assess the social commentary, arguments and calls to action found in Dube’s music, which include themes of anti-apartheid, anti-racialism, anti-war, and anti-discrimination against marginalized groups such as women and children.

As we commemorate his legacy, it is important to recognize the legend’s contributions to society within music and in the realms of philosophy and post-colonial African theory. Dube’s lyrics in the songs, “Slave” (1987), “Together as One” (1988), “Group Areas Act” (1991), “War and Crime” (1989), and “The Way It Is” (1999) are extremely poignant, poetic, and both socially and politically conscious, proving that African epistemological and ontological philosophy can be found in various genres of African and diaspora-based music.

Global Humanitarian, Postcolonial Poet & Philosopher

Between 1984-2004, Dube produced 14 reggae albums during the anti-apartheid movement and post-apartheid period. The title track, Slave, from the album Slave (1987) includes social commentary about the role of liquor and alcoholism in society, as well as religion, unemployment, and gender-based violence. This song’s lyrics are important because they call attention to the role of alcoholism in South African society, especially among the Black (and Coloured) South African population. Dube’s lyrics also focus on the marginalization African women experience as a byproduct of the dehumanization of African men in Southern Africa. When Black South African men had difficult experiences in society, alcohol use increased the possibility of violence toward Black South African women. Furthermore, the song elucidates the internal conflicts marginalized men experience when trying to overcome their mental, social, and psychological issues.

The album Together as One (1988), the title track, Together as One, is an explicit call for unity amid the ongoing tension and political oppression various Black South Africans experienced under the Republic of South Africa’s apartheid regime. The lyrics of “Together as One” are very moving, especially considering a racially tense Republic of South Africa with members of all racial groups experiencing social and political backlash. Despite the state-sanctioned violence and persecution of Black South Africans by the RSA, Dube continued to advocate for unity and racial solidarity internationally and within the RSA.

On track three, War and Crime, on the album Prisoner (1989), Dube further engages in anti-war and anti-apartheid political commentary, as he makes another explicit call for unity and both anti-racial and anti-ethnic discrimination. Dube’s lyrics in War and Crime, explicitly demand that the various racial groups of the Republic of South Africa work together to address apartheid policies and overcome racial and ethnic based discrimination. The historical themes of the lyrics call attention the agency younger generations of South Africans have when addressing social, political, and economic issues of the present and future.

The song Group Areas Act from House of Exile (1991), calls attention to the three acts (1951, 1957, and 1966) of the apartheid regime’s Parliament of South Africa, which assigned racial groups to distinct residential and business sections under urban apartheid. In the song, Group Areas Act, Dube continues to compound his lyrics with commentary about political, social, and economic issues within South African society. On the track, Dube theorizes about the potential of a post-apartheid society to have Black and white people occupy the same spaces, free of any racial tension.

On the title track “The Way It Is”, from his album The Way It Is (1999), Dube highlights the strained relationship between South African politicians, the nation’s business and middle class, and those who supported liberation movement, with the latter group perpetually receiving inadequate resources in a post-apartheid South African society. Lucky Dube’s lyrics on “The Way It Is”, critique the behavior of the political and economic affluent classes of South Africans after they periodically engage with South Africans who experience economic, political, and social marginalization. Dube’s lyrics call attention to the fact that after elections and business deals, members of South Africa’s economic elite tend to forget about the needs of working class, underemployed, and unemployed South Africans, who were very active in the liberation movement, and anti-colonial and anti-Apartheid struggles.

The lyrical content analyzed in the aforementioned songs contain themes such as anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid, anti-racialism, anti-war and imperialism, as well as calls to eradicate gender-based violence, alcoholism, xenophobia, and both ethnic and race-based discrimination. Lucky Dube undoubtedly was aware of the humanitarian, human rights, and social justice themes found in his music. In an 1995-6 interview, Lucky Dube stated:
“…while to some people being a Rastafarian is about having dread locked hair, to me it is about consciousness, be it socially or politically…I write my music about people, myself, and real things that are happening to real people. No song that I have written has been about imaginary things. All the songs I have written, people have been able to relate to them in some way…There are three reasons that I do music: to educate, to entertain, and to unite.”
As a result, the position of this author and article is that Lucky Dube should be recognized as an international (Rastafarian) post-colonial philosopher, poet and humanitarian.

Conclusion: Lucky Dube: South Africa’s Reggae Giant

Lucky Dube is unquestionably one of the greatest artists of the late 20th and early 21st century period. Dube was a humanitarian, who strove to unite South African society and the world at-large, using his revolutionary music to advocate for racial and ethnic solidarity, and anti-discrimination against women, children, and marginalized populations. The themes found in Dube’s music are intentional in order to conscientize and politicize his audience about the potential of humanity and human solidarity. As a result, Lucky Dube should be recognized as an international humanitarian, post-colonial poet, and philosopher in addition to being considered as a musical icon and staple within the pantheon of music legends who have contributed to global society.

The songs above contain strong, emotional lyrics, that postulate and advance human rights, racial and ethnic solidarity, and the eradication of discrimination and xenophobia. Furthermore, Dube’s lyrics contain poetic, dynamic, and universal calls for social justice and the abolition of the apartheid policies. Dube’s humanitarian philosophy and poetic lyrical ability centralized the African diaspora. Dube’s songs of social and political consciousness provide a compass for aspirations of a greater humanity.

As 2022 marks the 15th year commemoration of the legacy of Lucky Dube, let the world reflect on his proverbs, actions, and calls for racial and ethnic solidarity, eradication of discrimination against women and children, and a more just and loving society, and seek ways to normalize such values in modern day and our future society.

Written by DaQuan Lawrence: Doctoral student in the African Studies department at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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