The Life and Times of South African Reggae Artist Lucky Dube

Artist Meets Tragic End in Johannesburg in 2007

Lucky Dube
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South African musician Lucky Dube was lucky in birth, fortunate for his successful music career in Zulu pop music and later reggae. He was very unlucky in 2007 as the fatal victim of a carjacking gone terribly wrong. Learn about his 25-year "lucky" streak to music stardom and when his streak came to an end.

Dube's Early Life

Dube was born in Ermelo, a small town about 150 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 3, 1964. His mother had thought that she was unable to bear children, so when he arrived, "Lucky" seemed like the perfect name. He grew up in poverty, raised primarily by his grandmother, while his mother sought work elsewhere. He had two siblings, Thandi and Patrick.

Early Musical Career

Dube first discovered his talent for music when he joined the choir at school. As a teenager, he and his friends experimented with borrowed instruments from the school band room and formed an informal band, The Skyway Band, that performed mbaqanga music, which was pop music with heavy traditional Zulu influences. While in school, he joined the Rastafari movement. He continued to perform mbaqanga music for several years, even recording several albums with his band, The Love Brothers.

Discovering Reggae

In the early 1980s, Dube discovered artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, and began the switch from mbaqanga to reggae. Initially, Dube simply performed an occasional reggae song with The Love Brothers, and when he realized the reception that these songs got, he eventually began performing reggae almost exclusively. He started to speak out in his lyrics, too. The socio-political messages about racism in Jamaican reggae began to resonate through in his music, which was extremely relevant in an institutionally racist South Africa.

Worldwide Success

Despite his record label's misgivings, Dube began to record reggae. His second album, "Think About the Children" was an immediate hit. It achieved platinum sales status. He was a popular reggae artist in South Africa and attracting attention outside of South Africa.

Apartheid-era Black South Africans could relate easily to the lyrical messages of Dube's reggae music, which gave voice to their struggles. International audiences enjoyed Dube's melodic and Afro-centric take on reggae. He was propelled into the big time. Dube toured internationally, sharing stages with artists such as Sinéad O'Connor, Peter Gabriel, and Sting. He remained an international star until his death.

Tragic Death

On October 18, 2007, Dube was murdered in an attempted carjacking. This senseless incidence of random violence was common in South Africa. Dube was driving his Chrysler 300C, which the assailants were after. The assailants did not recognize him. They had brought an end to the life of one of the world's most talented and popular musicians. He was 43 years old and left behind his wife and their seven children. His assailants were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Albums You Need to Hear

To get the feel for the artist or get a basic introduction, check out three albums, starting with "The Rough Guide to Lucky Dube" from 2001. For some classic Dube goodness,  get the "Prisoner" from 1990, which was one of Dube's early international hit albums, or "Respect" released in 2006, which was Dube's final studio album.