Reggae rebel

South Africa has seen profound changes over the past decade, but one thing that has remained constant is Lucky Dube's sharp criticism of his native country's government policies.

In the 1980s, Dube, South Africa's most visible and outspoken reggae star, defied the apartheid government with songs such as "Together as One," which became one of a long list of his songs banned in South Africa. In the song he asks, "Too many people hate apartheid, why do you like it?"

At that time, South Africans were regularly arrested and often killed for making such statements in public, and many thought that Dube would be next. Dube responded nonchalantly, "Why, did I tell a lie? All I did was tell the truth." Still, it was often difficult for Dube to perform. His concerts were regularly disrupted by military and police raids.

Today Lucky Dube is able to record and perform freely in South Africa. But he has kept his criticism as sharp and direct as ever. His attention has now turned to current South African government officials.

On his latest release, Taxman (Shanachie Records), Dube says, "There is a lot of money that is unaccounted for."

As a result, he says that the quality of life in South Africa is improving only for members of Parliament and not for taxpayers. In song, Dube contrasts the luxurious overseas properties of many government officials with the shacks in which most South Africans live.

Other new tracks on Taxman continue Dube's longtime struggle in song against social and political injustices. "Kiss No Frog" deals with the oppression of women, and "Well Fed Slave/Hungry Free Man" addresses the widespread unemployment and lack of housing in South Africa. In the song Dube asks, "What is the point in being free if you can't find a job/when you don't have a home?"

Around the world, Lucky Dube's name is synonymous with reggae, but he began his career singing mbaqanga, South African township music. His first record featured many Zulu tracks, including the South African hit "Dear Mother," which went gold. Despite this early success, Dube decided to pursue a reggae career, a choice inspired by the musical innovations and social criticism of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Dube's heroes. Indeed, Dube's mournful vocals recall those of Tosh, Marley and other Jamaican reggae legends from the 1970s.

Since Dube's 1985 album Slave (which was the biggest-selling record in South Africa at the time), he has been filling concert halls around the world. For his legendary live performances, his stage lineup (which numbers 12-15), includes a horn section, drums, guitars, backing vocals and dancers. Occasionally Dube, in a return to his roots form, will even add a touch of mbaqanga guitar to the roots-reggae sound. Lucky Dube's conscience music testifies to the power of beauty and truth and, especially live, should not be missed. Dan Rosenberg writes frequently about music for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]

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