AN emotional Skipha Shabalala, the lead guitarist in Lucky Dube’s band, conjured up the memory of Bob Marley in praise of Lucky Dube at his packed memorial.
The words from Marley’s political anthem, Redemption Song
, were potent with new meaning as Shabalala provoked the 2 000-odd crowd at the Bassline in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Wednesday to consider the savagery of crime.
“How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?” he reminded the crowd.
Dube was killed in what police believe was a botched hijacking in Rosettenville last Thursday night.
Shabalala was one of several speakers, including a subdued but defiant Hilda Tloubatla, of the Mahotella Queens, and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who urged the mourners to act against crime in whatever way possible.
The memorial service began on a profound, spiritual note with a group of Shembe church followers, dressed in crisp white, kneeling down in prayer at the front of the venue before marching inside.
The way they carried themselves was in stark contrast to a near-chaotic scene earlier at the main entrance when about 200 people tried to force their way in.
Inside, people on the benches were shoulder to shoulder. Their attention was soon diverted when Dube’s music started blaring out of speakers outside, and his music — as it always did — calmed everyone down, creating an ecstatic wonderland of dance on the grass in front of the club.
A giant outdoor screen allowed fans, many draped in the red, green and gold of the Rastafarian religion, to follow proceedings inside.
A fan, jumping up and down, exclaimed: “Nobody can stop reggae. They might have taken him (Lucky Dube) away but reggae will remain. The message remains and will forever be there.”
Also caught up in the emotion outside was Ras Moeng, a fan, who said: “Dube has left a legacy, so has Bob Marley and many others. Reggae is here to stay, so is Rastafarism.
“As for the brothers who committed this barbaric act, they must know that they have robbed us of a jewel, a lion and a true African. May his spirit live forever.”
Speakers at the memorial included Ivor Haarburger, CEO of Dube’s record company, Gallo; Trompies star and music activist Eugene Mthetwa; and the SABC’s CEO, Dali Mpofu.
Vavi’s long speech, met with giggles and some applause, was contentious. He replaced the scheduled Kid Sithole of the newly launched Creative Workers Union of South Africa on the programme to attack “monopolistic” recording companies and music pirates, as well as the SABC for not giving enough airplay to local musicians.
Vavi used the opportunity to call for all those present to join a protest march to the office of Safety and Security MEC Firoz Cachalia immediately after the memorial.
In contrast, Dube’s two daughters — Laura (11) and Bongi (21) — held on to each other for strength when they read an obituary. And Zulu traditional musician Bhekumuzi Luthuli cried openly on stage when he performed a tribute to his close friend and stablemate.
A hush fell on the crowd.
Haarburger warmed to the nostalgia of the moment when he recalled how, when he met Dube, then 21 years old, the musician had already released five albums: two Zulu traditional records and three English reggae albums.
“Twenty years ago, a seven single cost R2,95 and an LP R9,60,” said the music company boss. “Now, Lucky’s Slave and Prisoner (albums) are still in the top 10 in South Africa’s all-time sales.”
There was also applause for Tloubatla, who introduced a political dimension to her tribute when she blamed “foreigners” for Dube’s death.
Four suspects — two Mozambicans and two South Africans — appeared in court on Tuesday in connection with the murder, and the case was postponed to October 30 for a bail application.
“Why are we being ruled by foreigners in our country?” Tloubatla shouted, but master of ceremonies Sipho Mabuse was quick to correct her after her speech, urging mourners to place their trust in the judicial system and not take the law into their own hands.
Music celebrities, including top artists such as Deborah Fraser, Rebecca Malope, Thandiswa Mazwai and Simphiwe Dana, were at the service to pay their respects, while superstar Ringo Madlingozi and kwaito stars Arthur and Mdu mingled backstage.
Thousands of messages have been arriving at the Gallo offices for a week, and among those read out were condolences from top British musician Peter Gabriel, who once shared the stage with Dube, and the presidents of Gambia and Senegal.
The Ministry of Arts and Culture was represented by Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile, who read out a statement from Minister Pallo Jordan.
There were powerful performances from the Mahotella Queens and the Soul Brothers but it was when Dube’s own band took to the stage that it really hit home that the superstar was gone.
The words of his immortal hit Rastas Never Die were changed to the chant: “You can kill Lucky, but nobody can stop reggae.”
And Shabalala’s love for his bandleader and friend would probably carry the warmest echo: “Lucky was a legend, an icon, a father, a prophet, a devoted family man, indeed a great teacher. He believed in truth and respect.”
Dube, who recorded more than 20 albums in his career and won more than 20 awards, will be buried on Sunday in Newcastle, South Africa.
Condolences can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org — Cape Argus.