Why I sang for Fela-Lucky Dube
For sharing many qualities with the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, South African-born Reggae sensation, Lucky Philip Dube, easily became the guest artiste at the just concluded 2006 edition of Felabration in Lagos.
Although, he was on his second performing tour to Nigeria, DubeÕs arrival in the country was greeted with euphoria as thousands of his fans trooped to the famous Afrika Shrine where he performed alongside Femi Kuti on Sunday October 15.
Dube, who is better known as the Shinning Star of African reggae, equally proved his mettle during the all-night show as he thrilled music lovers with some of his popular numbers. The reggae star performed for almost three hours, jamming it big with Femi in a most scintillating manner. While Dube could hardly perform any of FelaÕs songs as he earlier promised, he nevertheless held the audience spell bound, dishing out his songs and thrilling Reggae lovers with his stagecraft and voice modulation.
Earlier at Afrika Shrine, Dube had disclosed his love and admiration for Fela. He explained how he shared his philosophy, his musical idealogy and his love and defence of the masses. Dube, who said he never met Fela alive, however, hinted, " when you talk of African music, his (Fela) name would always come up. He was a teacher, a father and many musicians continue to learn a lot from him."
In a chat with Daily Sun, Dube, who was equally billed to perform in PortHarcourt and Abuja unveiled his foray into music, having been denied early education and full parental care:
I was born on August 3 1964 after a few failed pregnancy attempts by my mother, Sarah. Infact, having me as a boy then was considered a blessing and that was why my mother named me Lucky. But I was born into a single parent family because my parents had separated before I was born. My mother became the only bread winner and at a point, she was forced to find work in many places, leaving me and my two siblings-Thandi and Patrick-in the hands of our grandmother. I started work at a tender age when most Western children enlist in school. I had worked for a few years before joining a school out of necessity. I worked as a gardner around many white suburbs mainly to fend for me and my siblings.
Becoming a musician
Although, I studied in poverty, I nevertheless excelled at school. While in school, I also found time to study music. As a member of the choir, I became a natural performer and one day when the choir master walked out of our rehearsals, I was forced to take on the role of choir leader. At the same time, I was placed third in an inter-school competition and I became so popular among students and teachers.
One day,I stumbled on some musical instruments in a cubboard in my school and I became curious. I called a few of my friends and we started experimenting with the instruments. That became my first official band-The Skyway Band. We went on performing with the hope of finding stardom. Unfortunately, things went sour when one of the teachers discovered that we were all along playing with the instruments which were locked in the cupboard.
But when I turned 18 (1982), I eventually discovered my passion for music. Although, I was still in school when I joined my first real band called The Love Brothers through a cousin, Richard Siluma. The band toured many districts and communities and since I already had the reputation of being a strong singer, I joined The Love Brothers to play to a traditional Zulu music known as Mbaqanga-a genre which I later explored and which became one of the most influential musical styles in South Africa.
Richard Siluma and I later got on well and we planned to record our music. I eventually signed on with Teal Records which later became Gallo Record Company and which remains my records label till date. The first album, which we recorded with The Love Brothers was released as Lucky Dube and the Supersoul but it was produced by Richard Siluma. I was the lead singer but I never wrote any material in the first record. The second album came soon afterwards and this time around, I was involved in writing songs. The recordÕs sales increased and I started earning good money with the success of the third album, I was able to procure instruments and establish a recording desk. At that time, sales figures increased and people began to notice me. My mother showed great concern for my musical life, thinking that it was uncertain. But I swore to her that I would complete my education. I also learnt English and this enabled me to handle record executives, the media aside gaining more confidence.
Moving into Reggae
At the verge of producing my fifth album, I met Dave Segal, who later became my long-time engineer, recording all my albums. Dave and I developed a good working relationship, while Richard too started concentrating on my career. He (Richard) had dropped the supersoul element and all albums were being recorded purely as ÔLucky DubeÕs efforts. I also started gaining more popularity just as I tried to improve on my dance moves and stagecraft. Infact, many events promoters started looking for me and two of my reggae tracks-Reggae man and City Life became hits. And as the reggae numbers became popular, Richard and I decided to record a full album of reggae songs and watch peopleÕs response.
This marked the beginning of my career in reggae. All along too, IÕve been listening to much of reggae and the lyrics intrigued me with their social messages aimed at the struggle of the black man. At the same time, the lyrics maintained their commercial sound, then I felt reggae was the perfect medium for the South African political situation.
My ordeal with reggae
At first, Richard, Dave and I went into the studio to start work on our first reggae album entitled: Rastas Never Die. I played all the instruments myself with only Dave giving studio effects back up. When the album was released, it could only sell an average of 4,000 units while the earlier records sold over 30,000 copies. Because of this, the records company became jittery but I was not discouraged. I continued to perform my reggae tracks. I started writing more, and I slowly introduced live sets. So, people associated me more and more with the new sound, particularly the reggae songs which were rendered in English.
So, when I emerged from the studio with the second reggae album, entitled: Think about the Children, it became a huge success. The album established me as one of South AfricaÕs biggest stars and my records started selling and getting more popular.
Singing for Fela
Incidentally, the Felabration performance was my first show in Lagos. Personally, itÕs a privilege for me to perform in memory of Fela ,who remains one of the greatest musicians that ever emerged in Africa. I have not really had the opportunity of meeting Fela in person but I have seen him perform in many places in America and Europe. When you talk of African music, FelaÕs name would always come up. He was a teacher, a father and a lot of our musicians today would continue to learn from him.