Lucky Dube’s daughter holds up the musical legacy

The 24-year-old Nkulee Dube, daughter of the late South African Reggae artiste Lucky Dube. Photo | CD COVER 

This August, South African music star Lucky Dube would have celebrated his 47th birthday. Sadly, the most successful African reggae artiste of his generation was killed by thugs in a Johannesburg suburb. That was in 2007.

Today, the legacy of the late Dube, who pioneered a distinctively African variant of reggae, rests on the shoulders of his 24-year-old daughter, Nkulee.

The singer and songwriter blends ethno-soul, jazz with reggae and dancehall tunes and has launched her international career with her father’s 10-piece outfit, The One People Band. Last year she toured the world with the tight group of musicians who made Lucky’s stage shows. These are some of the most electrifying performances by any African artiste.

“I only toured with my father’s band after his death because during his career, he wanted to keep his family and his career apart,” she says.

Her experience with the band has made her realise that their success was brought about by a very professional leadership, which has stayed with them beyond the death of Lucky.

Own sound

“They say he was a very strict boss and none of the musicians could get away with things that were not for the benefit of the band,” she says.

While Lucky Dube is remembered for his trademark reggae sound with socially conscious and timeless songs like Slave, Prisoner and House of Exile, his daughter performs a smoother contemporary brand of reggae, sometimes veering towards R&B and soul.

Nkulee prefers to talk about the issues that surround her as a young person. “There are different concerns for the youth today,” she says.

Carrying the name of Africa’s most successful reggae superstar must have weighed heavily on the shoulders of the young Dube during her sessions in a studio in Johannesburg where she worked on her debut album.

For the 11-song debut album My Way, she was signed by South African record label Native Rhythms Productions. Besides the obvious influence of her father, Nkulee draws from an eclectic musical background ranging from South African jazz great Lebo Mathosa to soul and dancehall.

“Working with some of the greatest musicians from South Africa and Germany made me feel like a real artiste,” says Nkulee when asked about the highlights of working on the album.

Her debut single Who Dem, a bouncy dancehall groove, written by Jah Seed of the South African kwaito/reggae group, Bongo Maffin, had its video shot in Johannesburg before Nkulee embarked on her current tour. The song is a tribute to Rastafarianism and the group’s values of peace, life, humanity, tranquillity and love. Images of Bob Marley and Lucky Dube grace this video.

“I want to do things my way. My sound is unique and I want people to understand and appreciate it,” she says. “I am creating new trends in the world of music.”

However she acknowledges the pressure that comes with being her father’s daughter and managing the expectations of her music. “It is amazing and very scary at the same time because of the pressure that comes with being Lucky Dube’s daughter,” she says.

Wild reception

Last year Nkulee joined the Lucky Dube Celebration Tour, a tribute to her late father with performances of his songs plus new and original music his former band has recorded since his death.

During the tour, she received an uproarious reception from the crowds whenever she was introduced on stage, especially from people who obviously felt her father’s presence. “I get to receive some of the love that the world had for my father during this tour. It can be very emotional for me when I see this reaction.”

She has also been on high demand at some of Europe’s biggest festivals. Last week, the theme of the annual African Music Festival in Germany was ‘Children of the Legends.’ Among the artistes at the 5-day event held in the town of Emmendingen was Nkulee, partly fulfilling the organisers’ long-held wish to have her father perform at the festival.

The shadow of her iconic father is something Nkulee cannot escape from. After all, the charismatic Lucky was a well-loved figure around the world, released more than 20 albums and sold millions of these records in a career spanning two decades.

“There have been a lot of expectations and the fact that I do reggae music, like my father, also increases this pressure,” says Nkulee.

Her shows are never complete without a tribute to her dad’s memory and she usually picks some of his best known songs like Prisoner whose lyrics are familiar to the crowds wherever in the world she performs.

Her current world tour that kicked off in July and ends later this August, has taken her from the US and Canada to Germany and Austria.

The hard truth

Riding on a famous family name has been the key for this young musician to break through on the world stage. With the exception of a select few, many other African artistes have struggled to find a sound that can create an impact beyond their own countries

“African musicians must realise that the world will always fall in love with a fresh sound rather than a poor imitation of what is already on offer,” says Nkulee.

Her half sister, Bongi Dube is also a recording artiste, though her jazz and house music style is markedly different from the rest of the family’s reggae staple.

Unlike Nkulee, the sister has appeared rather coy about her links to her famous father, at least publicly. It is said that executives at Gallo Music had no idea they were signing the daughter of one of their label’s biggest stars when they gave Bongi her first deal in 2007, before Lucky’s death.

The music of the man celebrated as Africa’s Reggae King continues to resonate with the masses across Africa because, as he said, his stance was not political; it was about highlighting the truth.

His offspring may have chosen different styles of music, but there is no denying the weight that the name Dube carries wherever in the world the sisters are introduced.

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