Insecurity, in South Africa, knows no barrier. All are at risk. Lucky Dube, the most successful African reggae artiste of his generation, was killed by thugs in a Johannesburg suburb in 2007. The killers wanted a few hundred bucks, and had no qualm in pulling the trigger and break a life, just for that. 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. She has just published her debut album where she blends ethno-soul, jazz with reggae and dancehall tunes. She has also started an international tour playing with the same band that supported her father on stage: The One People Band. ‘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.
Lucky Dube is remembered for his reggae sound with socially conscious and timeless songs like Slave, Prisoner and House of Exile. Nkulee prefers a smoother brand of reggae, sometimes veering towards R&B and soul. Her texts are also geared to a younger generation. And she does well to distinguish herself from her father. Carrying a last name like Dube is difficult enough, it would be worse if she tried to simply continue her father’s work. Besides, she has a right to establish herself on her own terms.
For the 11-song debut album My Way, she draws from an eclectic musical background ranging from South African jazz to soul and dance music. ‘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 – and first track in the album – Who Dem is a bouncy dancehall groove, written by Jah Seed of the Bongo Maffin. The song is a tribute to Rastafarianism and the group’s values of peace, life, humanity, tranquillity and love.
In 2010, Nkulee joined the Lucky Dube Celebration Tour, a tribute to her late father. During the tour, she was well received by the crowds whenever she appeared on stage. ‘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.’ The shadow of Lucky Dube is something Nkulee cannot escape from. After all, the charismatic South African singer was a well-loved figure, with more than 20 albums released 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. She is not shying away for the heavy inheritance, and her live shows are never complete without a tribute to Lucky’s memory.
My way is a good debut album. It shows an artist capable to work with different styles and able to attract the cooperation of well known artists, once again the power of the name! However, these songs fail to impress, and rightly so since this is a debut production. Nkulee needs time to grow as an artist, to find the maturity needed to make her music as vibrant as that of many South African artists. So, let her grow and she might deliver a new sound that will nonetheless perpetuate the Dube name in music. If an advice can be given, well, change whoever was in charge of the album jacket!
Nkulee Dube, My Way, Native Rhythms Productions, CDBSP3255.