It was the early 1980s when young black South African Lucky Dube launched a music career even as apartheid gripped his country.
Although he longed to play the reggae music of his heroes Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, to do so would have been both a career risk and a physical risk.
“During those days if you were found with a Bob Marley or Peter Tosh tape, the police would kick the hell out of you and even arrest you,” Dube says. “So people were not very much into reggae. Those that had reggae tapes would not have them publicly.”
Despite the risks, in 1985 Dube dove headlong into the socio-politically charged world of reggae music. His inspirational-turned-anti-establishment songs and albums were quickly banned in South Africa. He recorded in near secrecy.
In some ways, much has changed since those oppressive days.
Apartheid has crumbled. The 32-year-old Johannesburg man, now a reggae star in his own country and around the world, is considered by many to be walking in the footsteps of his Jamaican heroes.
“Musically, it is a big change. It’s a big step forward for us because we can now sing about whatever we want to sing about. But socially, I think from my point of view there is very little that has changed.”
Stories of government fraud, the victimization of the poor and the divisions that remain among South Africa’s people unfold on Dube’s latest album, “Taxman.”
His roots reggae is lush with loping rhythms and liquid melodies that flow with an unhurried grace. Lavish strokes of West African soca and traditional Zulu mbaqanga music weave throughout.
Dube penned the title track from the album after hearing how millions of dollars in taxpayer money had disappeared from the current South African government’s coffers.
“Immediately after the album was released I got some calls from politicians saying I shouldn’t have sung a song like that because it’s against the black government,” Dube says. “My reason for writing the song was not because its a white government or a black government or a green government, it was just because there was something wrong that is happening within the government. If there is injustice now I will sing about it … because I’m about justice.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT SUNDAY Lucky Dube performs Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint. Tickets are $15, are available at Java Adagio in Sandpoint, 4000 Holes in Spokane and the Long Ear in Coeur d’Alene.