Ithaca Blog

Friday, October 19, 2007

An Ithacan Reminiscence of Lucky Dube's Music

Lucky Dube, who was shot to death in a carjacking attempt in his native South Africa on 18 October, was one of the premier reggae stars in the world.

Mr. Dube played at the GrassRoots Festival in 1994. At the time, he was little-known in America. In turn, at the time, his band was unfamiliar with America. They came to Trumansburg at the beginning of their tour. They expressed confusion about their whereabouts.

"We thought we were playing in New York," one of them said outside their tour bus. They were assured that they were in New York.

"See, I told you, " one bandmember said to another. "On the bus, he said he saw a cow!"

He was assured that, in upstate New York, this was possible.

The band's confusion was understandable. They were unused to playing such a small locale. In Africa and Europe, they generally played major cities, in sold-out soccer stadiums.

They were scheduled for a Thursday night performance at GrassRoots. In 1994, this meant an audience of less than 1,000.

But they played a tremendous show, and enjoyed what for them was a homey setting.

For us, it was a lesson about the international status of reggae. Until then, like many people,we thought of reggae as Jamiaican music.

Lucky Dube began his musical career playing music native to South Africa. But he adopted reggae as a music of spirituality and community. He became the biggest musical star in the history of South Africa. His releases there outsold not only all other South Africans, but also sales by Madonna, Michael Jackson, and other international pop stars.

He opened the ears of Africa to reggae, in effect bringing home one strain of music from the African diaspora. One of his bandmembers said at GrassRoots, in a post-concert conversation, that there are dozens of distinguishable strains of African reggae now flourishing.

For his musical message of peace and social justice, Lucky Dube was banned by the South African apartheid regime. His gunshot death is a tragic parallel to that of John Lennon, another celebrated musician who sang of peace only to be met by government persecution and, ultimately, unfathomable violence.

We remember Lucky Dube with gratitude and admiration.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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