Reggae musician who attacked South Africa's social ills

Lucky Dube

Born: 3 August, 1964, in Ermelo, South Africa.

Died: 18 October, 2007, in Johannesburg, aged 43.

LUCKY Dube was Africa's best-selling reggae artist and one of the genre's top stars worldwide. Born in South Africa, he died in Johannesburg, shot dead in the kind of everyday, gratuitous killing that makes South Africa one of the world's most dangerous places to live.

Dube, who had just returned from a month-long tour of the United States, died in what is believed to have been an attempted car hijacking as he dropped off two of his children at their home on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg.

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Born into an impoverished Zulu family in the small farming town of Ermelo, Dube achieved a worldwide following. Sales of his albums and fees from his concerts, which attracted audiences of 60,000 and more, made him a rich man, allowing him to buy his own farm.

Dube was attracted to reggae by the music of Peter Tosh, who, with Bob Marley, formed the legendary Wailers. Coincidentally, Dube died almost 20 years to the day after Tosh was shot dead by two men who broke into his house in Kingston, Jamaica.

Dube at first used his music to attack the iniquities of apartheid and for many years his songs were banned from the airwaves by the white minority National Party government.

But since South Africa's first all-race elections in 1994, his lyrical barbs have tackled the problems of life - particularly the burgeoning violent crime - in the "new South Africa" under the African National Congress. His lyrics were always intelligent, thought- provoking and sharp commentaries on South Africa's complex and disturbing society, as for example in his social anthem Crime and Corruption, which, as tens of thousands of bloggers throughout Africa have been pointing out, foreshadowed Dube's own fate:

Do you ever worry

About your house being broken into

Do you ever worry

About your car being taken away from you

In broad daylight

Down Highway 54

Do you ever worry

About your wife becoming

The woman in black

Do you ever worry

About leaving home and

Coming back in a coffin

With a bullet through your head

So join us and fight this

Crime and corruption ...

Dube did not fully practise the Rastafarian religion, as associated with reggae by performers such as Tosh and Marley. Because he didn't smoke "dagga", which Rasta adherents regard as a path to communication with God, he was not regarded as a true Rasta. And his dreadlocks drew negative comments - they were too neat and clean, said his detractors, and therefore too commercial, downgrading the essence of true Rastafarianism.

Nevertheless, his fans throughout the world gave him respect for keeping their music on the international stage.

Dube was given the name Lucky because he survived a difficult birth. He began studying for a medical degree, but launched a professional music career with a group called the Love Brothers, who played a form of South African music known as mbaqanga, or township jive.

The switch to reggae came when he was inspired by the social messages addressing the struggle of black people by Tosh, Marley and Jimmy Cliff.

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He performed with such fellow artists as Sting, Peter Gabriel, Sinad O'Connor and Youssou N'Dour and won more than 20 international music awards.

Earlier this year was granted the freedom of Dallas, Texas. He was the first African to be invited to perform at the legendary reggae Sunsplash Festival in Jamaica. Dube's last performance in Jamaica was at this year's cricket World Cup opening ceremony.

A shy, family man, who avoided the hedonistic lifestyle commonly associated with musicians, he will be remembered as much for his tragic death as for his music.

"For every Lucky Dube death on an October Thursday there are 30 others who lose loved ones under violent circumstances," wrote Mondli Makhanya, editor of South Africa's best-selling Sunday Times. "He pricked our consciences, made us dance, made us hum and made us happy.

"But they killed him this week. In front of his children. A sweet lyrical voice was silenced. It is tough. As you say it and it sinks in, you want to scream."

Dube was always moving forwards. While once he had railed against apartheid, his latest songs were dedicated to reconciliation. In Different Colours, he sang: "Look at me you see black/ I look at you I see white/ Now is the time to kick that away."

Dube leaves his wife, Zanele, and seven children, Bongi, Nonkululeko, Thokozani, Laura, Siyanda, Philani and three-month-old Melokuhle.