Greatest African Musicians: Brenda Fassie

By Joburg Post

In 09 May 2004, the whole of South Africa went into mourning. Most will never forget the day as everything came into a standstill, everyone was talking about the same thing and most could not even work as the news of Brenda Nokuzola Fassie’s death made international headlines.

The whole of South Africa felt as if they had lost a close family member, that's how much the Queen of African pop was loved, adored and cherished. An anti-apartheid singer, the Langa born musical icon dead in a hospital in Sunninghill, Johannesburg. Fassie made so much impact on society; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a great African in herself own right alongside respected lawyer Lesley Sidibe, communicated the news of her death to the public. After collapsing at her home in Buccleuch, the Black Madonna was visited by former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in hospital. 

The cause of her death remains unclear to this day. At first, it was believed that she was admitted to hospital because of an asthma attack but after her death, rumours of cocaine overdose started to surface. Fassie’s struggles with drugs were well documented, she was admitted to rehabilitation centres on more than 30 occasions during her career.  MaBrr, as she was affectionately known, was a free-spirited individual and lived her life on her own terms. She also had a love-hate relationship with the press, however, no matter how much the media criticised her, she remained humble and authentic. 

Dubbed, the Madonna of the township, she loved the township life. Her superstar status did little in changing her personality and outlook on life. 

Fassie was born for the big stage, as a young girl she sang for tourists to earn a living in Cape Town. Her whole family was involved in music with her mother playing the piano, while her brother sang in exile. Her father passed away when she was only two years but he was also involved in music as a dancer. She was even named after American performer of the 1960’s Brenda Lee.

Known as Little Dynamite, the vocalist was rated as one of the best of her generation. Fassie took it a step further as she was once named the 17th greatest South African. The Memeza hitmaker made music about life, made the whole world dance and sing. Her powerful voice touched lives around the world. She still serves as an inspiration to many younger performers across the African continent. She might be gone but her memory still lives on.

Brenda Fassie sculpture in Newton JHB, created by artist Angus Taylor

Her son Bongani Fassie, a hip-hop music producer has done well to keep his mother’s legacy alive. MaBrr was full of life and it was only fitting that a life-size bronze sculpture, which is outside a music venue Baseline was made in her memory. After winning a number of awards for her multi-platinum albums and achieving what most musicians can only dream off, Fassie took her last breath surrounded by her family and friends in one of the saddest days in South African history.


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