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Interview: Nkulee Dube

Interview: Nkulee Dube

Interview: Nkulee Dube

By on - Photos by Mark Miller - 7 comments

"I've always wanted to sing, but I have always been shy about my voice"


Her father was one of reggae‘s most successful legends ever - Lucky Dube. When he was shot to death on Oct 18, 2007, Nkulee Dube was in the car and witnessed the murder. Four years later, she still has difficulties talking about it. Now an artist in her own right, she has released her first album this summer, called 'My Way'. Her impressive stage presence resembles that of Lucky, but Nkulee has managed to find her own soulful style. South African roots reggae, flavored with dancehall, spiced with jazz - she calls it ethno ragga. Valentin Zill met Nkulee in Munich, Germany in August on her first world tour. South Africa‘s highly promising next reggae star on her music, touring life, the rich musical heritage of her native and, yes, some memories of her father.

Nkulee Dube

Nkulee, growing up in a family like yours, it is no surprise really that you are doing music. But when you were younger, people told you to keep your voice under the shower.

I wanted to sing. What made me wanna do music? I've always wanted to sing, but I have always been shy about my voice. So I think it took a lot of years for me to be comfortable and be confident with my voice on stage or in front of people. I think I'm comfortable and confident in front of people now, so I released an album (laughs).

With which people did you work on that album, My Way?

We recorded at Native Rhythms Studios, which is my recording company. The people that I have working with me - I'm blessed to have had like the most amazing musicians on this album. I've worked with Silly Walks from (Hamburg), Germany. They gave me two tracks, two riddims to voice. I also have Joel Klein, who is like a scientist in guitar. He's also worked with a couple of people - Miriam Makeba, just to name the one person that people recognize. (I) also have Bethuel Mbonani on drums, who I play with right now in my band. He's actually the producer of the album. I also have Thuthukani Cele from the One People Band, who was on the keys. And some other artists, beautiful voices from the Ladies that I've worked with before. I was just surrounded by great musicians.

Few countries in the world have such a rich musical heritage as South Africa. With which sound other than reggae did you grow up?

I grew up with jazz, a lot of jazz. My Mom loved jazz - the old from the fifties, you know. Actually they didn't call it jazz then, they called it the blues. So that's something that was always playing in the house. That's the music I grew up with.

I wake up and the songs come and I just write everything that I hear in my head down before I forget it

What was it that you liked so much about jazz music?

The way the jazz musicians can express themselves through notes and not saying anything. And you'll be like "oh ya, ya, I feel that, I understand". So they can just completely express themselves through music. Like only music, no vocals, which I respect, like release an album without saying anything and let the music speak for itself. That's what I liked about jazz.

Do you see similarities between jazz and reggae music?

Ya, there are (similarities), besides the music part. There are. In reggae, just like (in) jazz, we express ourselves through music. Because everyone in the world can identify that that's a reggae song. You don't have to be like, "ah ya, I'm not sure which...". Just like jazz. If it plays like (that), that's a jazz song. So you can recognize (that) immediately. With reggae and jazz, they have their own identity in terms of sound.

Which Jamaican reggae artists have influenced you?

Nkulee DubeI like the band Morgan Heritage. I think they have a bit of an influence, cause I have crazy albums, crazy posters, I'm a fan and I think, ya, Morgan Heritage does a lot. Especially like a stage presence and how they perform on stage and how I would love to get to that level. So they do inspire me as an artist.

My favorite voice of them is Gramps.

(Sings) "She's a friend/..." I forgot it man, what's the song? "She is your best friend/who became my friend/behind your back..." That's my favorite one (tune).

How do you write your songs?

Some of those songs, I write through music that I get and listen to it and be like what can I do on it. And most of them, I wake up and they come and I just write everything that I hear in my head down before I forget it. So they just come from somewhere. But the other songs, I listen to the beats and try to create something from the beats. Usually it just comes and I write it down.

You've just pretty much toured half the world. You've been to the US, Europe and so many other places...

Yaaa... Canada, you know, Germany... Very long, long, long tour. But I enjoyed myself. I still have another half of the world to take care of. I'll be ready for it next time (laughs).

You're still very young - did you ever dream of touring the world in that age?

No. No. You know, in your dreams you dream of things that you feel are tangible, like you can achieve them. So this one - never in a million years. Never ever I thought that I'll be in Germany again and again, in Canada, Austria, you know. It's a great dream and I'm glad it's been made real for me.

Do you feel homesick already, or could you go on like this for another six months?

(Swallows hard) I'm not sure about six months (laughs), but I have a family here, so the whole homesick(ness) doesn't really come that much, that often, because everybody here is friends and we just hang with each other, with family... But it does happen that I miss my Mom. All the time. But that's what phones are for.

Your Mom must be very proud of you.

Ya, she is. She is very proud of me and she tells me that every day. Doesn't matter what wrong I do, she's like... OK, it matters what wrong I do. It doesn't matter how bad it becomes. Maybe I feel very sad and I feel whatever, she always says "I'm still proud of you. You've done this, you've done that, you've achieved this and this and that. And how many people can you say have achieved that?" So, in her eyes, I'm an angel (laughs).

Talking about religion: do you see yourself as Rasta, or is Shembe the way?

(Sings) "Shembe is the way..." Ya, Shembe is the way for me.

Shembe is the way...

Few people outside of South Africa know about Shembe.

Shembe is a church, where there's a prophet called Shembe. 'Cause some people confuse the fact that Shembe maybe is... 'Cause I've always been asked that in interviews like, do we praise him or do we see him as God or... No. He's a prophet. So if you know the definition of a prophet, then you know what Shembe is. We all have the same God, depending on whatever you call him. But we all have one God. So Shembe is a prophet.

Is Shembe a christian faith?

Our religion is not really that different from christianity. In Shembe, we combine religion with culture. Like the type of religion the Indians have. They do everything, but that goes back to their culture as Indians. So we do the same way in our church.

Are you attending church services regularly?

Yeah... When I'm not away. I wish I could. Every Saturday and Wednesday I go - when I'm at home. So now that I'm here, I do a bit of prayer here and there, on the right times, when I'm supposed to be praying.

You only saw your father live on stage one or two times?

Actually once, and then the second time was when his record company had gathered their own artists together to show off. It was just a showcase. He was invited there and we went there as a family. The other one is not really a show. But a show-show was once.

Nkulee Dube

I guess that was an unforgettable experience for you, as it was for the rest of us not related to Lucky Dube?

Ya, it was! I mean, at the time, I was like a fan. You watch him on stage, like (screams) aaaah. You just wanna be solid like a fan. It's a crazy feeling to switch from that to the other side. It felt very good.

What's your favorite song from your father?

From his albums? (She sings:) "Baby don't cry/I am going round the world/spreading the message/I am going round the world..." Well I think that's one of the songs that he loved. Because when he would leave for a tour, that's the song that he would sing to us, especially when he was gonna go for like six months or so.

What memories do you have of your father as a father?

He's always been a strict dad. He was a very, very strict father, like he didn't want things that didn't really belong there, like fake hair, fake nails. You go and have your manicure and you get home and you're like "ah, I have to take all of this off, all my money..." So he was very strict as a father.

He's always been a strict dad

The reggae scene in South Africa seems to be pretty small. Other than Lucky Dube, pretty much all we heard of are Ras Dumisani and Black Dillinger...

Well, with reggae in South Africa... South Africa has its own type of traditional sound. So the reggae spectrum is really slowly but getting there! Especially with my Dad, I think he's the one that kinda enforced it into the people and people are now experimenting more. Artists there are experimenting more with the reggae sound within that traditional sound. So it's gonna get there, it's gonna get there.

A lot of Jamaican artists love to perform in South Africa.

Ya, they love it because South Africa has a support. It has a lot of support in terms of music. But they have to understand it first. That's why we have clubs that only play reggae, that only play dancehall. So it's kind of a different scene for them. So they get there, and it is always packed. Every Thursday night, it is always packed. The more they get used to that - when they say, "that artist that we heard last week, remember at the club, he's coming...", then everybody wants to see you. That's how South Africa works.

Is the reggae crowd there "racially" mixed?

It's very mixed. Like you go there on Thursday nights, just chillin' with the Rastas, and you find your Indians, your Chineses... Everybody's there, having fun. It's because South Africa is a very, very, very multiracial type of country.

Would you like to perform in Jamaica?

I would love to, definitely. I would love to play in Jamaica. I know it can be but intimidating, you know, you'll get there and you're like "this is their sound"... It can be, but I would love to. I would love to meet Tanya (Stephens), I think that's one reason you'd have to come to Jamaica. I've already met Sizzla, so I'd like to meet Tanya (laughs).

Your father was the first African performer in JA.

Ya. Well, as far as I know (laughs). I would like to be the second, please. I would like to be the second and meet all these people and be like a fan and be all goo goo ga ga with everybody (laughs).

For your album My Way, you used a riddim from Silly Walks from Hamburg, Germany. I guess you got the link through Black Dillinger?

Nkulee Dube - My WayYes. The first song, Give It To Me, that's how I got the link through Dillinger. And then after that, they just talked to me straight. 'Cause I didn't know about them, and then they wanted to work with me and they didn't know how to get hold of me. Dillinger was like "oh yeah, I know her" and that's how we met. We've been working very nice together.

Quite some German producers have their riddims on heavy rotation in Jamaica, but South Africa is a different matter, I suppose. How was the tune you sang on their riddim received in RSA?

They are received in terms of radio. We have about three stations that play reggae music only. Reggae and dancehall music. So people that listen to radios and all that, I think it's received very well. And they play them in dancehall clubs, the ones that I'm talking about.

Oliver from Silly Walks told me recently that he had just sent you a new riddim of theirs to voice?

Yeah, he sent me one of the songs that I'll be performing tonight. It's called Luv The Way, it's one of my favorite songs. When he sent it to me, I was like "oh my Goood, I like it!" And then I just recorded it that night. I got it around nine am, and by five the song was done. I just sent it to the producer, and he was gonna go through and take out whatever he doesn't want or whatever he thinks, but the song was done. I recorded it in a day.

Gentleman called you on stage at the Africa Festival in Würzburg, Germany earlier this year.

Ouh ya! That was one of the moments... That was one of the most amazing moments, the most nerve-wrecking moments of my life. I forgot the words, I forgot what I'm gonna say, I forgot... 'Cause I was like, it's Gentleman! It's Gentleman, I'm on stage with Gentleman. How can I remember anything? It's Gentleman! But ya, I pulled it off. It was one of my highlights, one of the highlights in my life.

(On stage with Gentleman), that was one of the most amazing moments, the most nerve-wrecking moments of my life

I couldn't tell you were nervous at all.

That's the thing with me. When I'm nervous, people say "you know, you should be nervous more often. 'Cause you perform when you're nervous. And when you're cool, you're like ‘oh, collect it’". I don't know, when I'm nervous, I become to be too much - I don't know, I exaggerate, I try to make things even more up, because I think people can see that I'm nervous. But I'm always nervous when I perform. It helps! Always. I never get on stage and be like, I'm cool, I got this... No. I'll always be like what if they, what if this, what if that... You're always thinking about what if my earring falls down. And then someone has to slap you and say, calm down, you'll be fine. But I'm always nervous.

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Read comments (7)

Posted by Shams on 02.16.2012
Hey Nkulee, I real enjoying reading your interview you granted. Keep it up. Rastars never dies.

Posted by mike on 02.17.2012
Hi NKulee.Great read ur stage presence resembles that of ur late legend ever Lucky Dube,keep the fire burning shembe is the way Culture and religion washa umuntu.Interview nice music nice future nice that's the way it is bless

Posted by Paul Livingstone Ssenoga on 05.13.2012
Am so so so happy to know about Nkulee Dube. In my whole life, I have love the music from Lucky Dube. He has always and will always be my best artist. I have always everyday listened to his songs. He visited my country twice(Uganda), but I was young to recognise his message but would mumble on the beats. I was waiting to see him whatever cost if he ever returned back to his fan base. Sincerely I feel so blessed to know about Nkulee, please lift the flag higher. I remember I always listened to his music while I was in Europe especially Poland and my Polish friends would see me dancing and wondered the kinda of music I was always listening to. One friend asked me to let him listen to the rythym which I accepted, I told them about this reggae Icon, the best song I always listened to is Different Colors, my friends loved this song and secretly loved it and to my surprise when I returned to Uganda, they sent me a T-Shirt with the Words different colors, one people together with a joine flag of Uganda and Poland. Stay blessed, know that I am one thy souls following thee. Want to get thy music. If you come to Uganda, u will never be disappointed the love for thy father will be bestowed to thee. Now am in Dubai.

Posted by Captain Reon on 09.18.2012
I have never cried for any one who was not close to me when they died, but when my musical icon the only one person I listen to every day died I find myself wake up one morning crying for my hero. Ever since his passing I always wonder how his children and band members doing. Well I am so happy to know that they all doing very well thanks to God. I am living in the British Virgin Islands and I will love for one day to see Nkulee Dube perform here at the music fest just like your father did. Nuff respect. One love.

Posted by Linci on 04.27.2014
Nkulee Dube I love Your Music, am keen on following what you release always. My only Best reggae man was your Dad LUCKY DUBE. wE NEED YOUR MUSIC IN KENYA PLEASE

Posted by Emeka Jamo on 10.08.2016
Nkulee i transfer the love i have for your dad to you.keep the music up.

Posted by Mariam Salle on 03.23.2017
Your dad's music was not only fabulous but deep and insightful. His talent and message were larger than life and up till this day, I listen to him all the time. Sometimes, I ask God why he allowed those cheap, low life losers to take his life. But I believe he perfected his purpose on earth and its for the living to carry on. I wish you and your family the best and Congratulations!

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