Lucky Dube is a South African singer who four years ago jumped from the comfort of Zulu pop to the more uncertain world of reggae. It was a brave cultural statement for an African to adopt the African-destiny cause of the Jamaican music, but the artistic results on display in Dube's L.A. debut Friday at the Palace were mixed. Except for one a cappella choral piece, the wiry performer made no attempt to blend the music of the homeland with that of the exiles seeking the homeland. Reggae's politics my be radical, but the musicians tend to follow the rules.
But if it was standard-issue reggae, at least it was good reggae. Dube's six fatigues-clad instrumentalists and three colorfully-draped female singers delivered with a power and precision that were buoyed by a casual, offhand touch. His sharp-edged voice sometimes took on a Peter Gabriel-like huskiness, and he could whip out a spine-tingling, Princely falsetto to take things to higher ground. Dube (pronounced doo-BAY) addresses the usual big issues--race, politics, theology, romance--with a fair amount of eloquence, and he was in constant motion, with all limbs swinging like pistons. Entertaining enough at first, but after a while Dube came off like a wind-up reggae star.