I remember back in 1987 when my mother asked me who sang the song "I've Got You Babe," which seemed to be blaring out of every radio, every window, every passing taxi. It was a new song, but sounded pretty familiar to me: the sharp, skanking riddim, the tart female chorus offsetting the gravelly, aching baritone of the lead vocal... All of these were hallmarks of the classic Peter Tosh sound, so I went to the market with my mother to pick up the new Peter Tosh record. I was quite surprised to learn that not only was the song not by Peter Tosh, it wasn't even from a Jamaican artist but by a South African singer named Lucky Dube.
It seems like South African artists were getting a lot of play in Nigeria that year: The cassettes she bought that day included Dube's Slave, a few tapes by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Paul Simon's Graceland, featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as well as No Nuclear War, which actually was the new Peter Tosh album and would turn out to the final one.
Later in the year, on September 11th, Tosh was tragically gunned down during a botched robbery at his home. He was 43 years old. Not only had one of reggae's most insistent and articulate voices been silenced, Tosh's murder seemed to mark an official end to the golden age of Jamaican roots reggae.
The golden age of reggae in Africa, on the other hand, was just beginning. Reggae had been pretty popular since the early 1970s, but in '87 it became Africa's de facto musica franca, thanks largely to three landmark releases from homegrown Rasta messengers: From Côte d'Ivoire came Revolution by Alpha Blondy, Nigeria's Majek Fashek made a splash with Prisoner of Conscience, and then, of course, there was Lucky Dube's Slave.
The impact of these records was so momentous that it convinced the international community of roots & culture loyalists that since dancehall wasn't turning out to be the fleeting fad they had hoped it would be, and The Next Bob Marley™ didn't show signs of emerging out of the computer-generated sounds of Kingston, perhaps they should heed the words of Marcus Garvey and look to Africa for a new king to be crowned.
Alpha Blondy was the most logical choice for The Next Bob Marley™: Like Marley, he was possessed of a reedy tenor, a warm, likeable personality and an eagerness to adapt his music to appeal to the broadest possible audience. The deal had been just about sealed when no lesser band than The Wailers themselves backed him on his massive 1985 hit "Cocody Rock!!!"
Lucky Dube for all intents and purposes seeemed more suited for the role of The Next Peter Tosh. Apart from the obvious vocal resemblance, Dube's paramilitary wardrobe was reminiscent of Tosh. Slave didn't contain too much material that could be considered particularly politically radical, but I guess the fact that he came from a country that had some was quite famous for very visible oppression of black people and had had an earlier album banned by South Africa's apartheid government gave him the appearance of a true rebel, which was quite attractive to me, being 13 or 14 at the time.
Like Tosh, Lucky Dube was murdered, shot and killed on Thursday, October 18, 2007, the day before what would have been Peter Tosh's 63rd birthday. He was 43 years old.
All the Africans I've talked to over the past few days are all broken up about it.
My mom called me and asked me if the people who shot him were Nigerians.
Back in 1987, when I was in J.S. 3 (that's the ninth grade, y'all) and between periods, me and my boys Deinma, Baykar and Dog Wonder would entertain (and annoy) our classmates with our Take Style Reggae Radio Show. It wasn't a real radio show, but an extended comedy sketch in which we played a band of Rastas forever staging absurd pledge drives and harebrained moneymaking schemes to fund passage to Jamaica in order to represent Nigeria at Peter Tosh's funeral. Part of the joke was that we were still trying to raise the money long after Tosh had been buried.
"I've Got You Babe" was our theme song.
Lucky Phillip Dube 8.3.1964 - 10.18.2007