Brenda Fassie

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Brenda Fassie
Angus Taylor's life-size bronze sculpture of Brenda Fassie outside Bassline, a music venue in Johannesburg. The Sunday Times commissioned the tribute, which was installed in March 2006.
Angus Taylor's life-size bronze sculpture of Brenda Fassie outside Bassline, a music venue in Johannesburg. The Sunday Times commissioned the tribute, which was installed in March 2006.
Background information
Birth nameBrenda Nokuzola Fassie
Also known asMaBrrri Brenda
Born(1964-11-03)3 November 1964
Langa, South Africa
Died9 May 2004(2004-05-09) (aged 39)
Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Singer-songwriter
  • dancer
  • activist
Years active1981–2004
LabelsCCP Records

Brenda Nokuzola Fassie[1] (3 November 1964 – 9 May 2004)[2] was a South African singer, songwriter, dancer and activist.[3] Affectionately called MaBrrr by her fans, she is also known as the "Queen of African Pop", the "Madonna of The Townships" or simply as The Black Madonna. Her bold stage antics earned a reputation for "outrageousness";[4] ironically, her Xhosa name, Nokuzola, means "quiet", "calm", or "peace".


Brenda Nokuzola Fassie was born in Langa, Cape Town on 3 November 1964,[5] the youngest of nine children. She was named after the American singer Brenda Lee.[5] Her father died when she was only two years old; with the help of her mother, a pianist, she soon started earning money by singing for tourists.

When she was 16 years old in 1981, she received a visit by Hendrick "Koloi" Lebona.[5][6] As a result, she left Cape Town for Soweto, Johannesburg, to seek her fortune as a singer. Fassie first joined the vocal group Joy (filling in for one of the members who was on maternity leave)[7] and later became the lead singer for a township music group called Brenda and the Big Dudes. She had a son, Bongani, in 1985 by a fellow Big Dudes musician. She married Nhlanhla Mbambo in 1989, but the pair divorced in 1991. Around this time she became addicted to cocaine and her career suffered as a result.[8][9]

With very outspoken views and frequent visits to the poorer townships of Johannesburg, as well as songs about life in the townships, Fassie enjoyed tremendous popularity. She also used her music to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa.[10] In 1989, she released the song "Black President" as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner and later the first Black president of South Africa. Known best for her songs "Weekend Special" and "Too Late for Mama", Fassie was dubbed "The Madonna of the Townships" by Time magazine in 2001.[4]

In 1995, she was discovered in a hotel with the body of her female lover, Poppie Sihlahla, who had died of an apparent overdose.[5] Fassie underwent rehabilitation and got her career back on track.[5] However, she still had drug problems, and returned to drug rehabilitation clinics about 30 times in her life.[5] From 1996 on she released several solo albums, including Now Is the Time, Memeza (1997), and Nomakanjani?. Most of her albums became multi-platinum sellers in South Africa; Memeza was the best-selling album in South Africa in 1998.[5]


On the morning of 26 April 2004, Fassie collapsed at her home in Buccleuch, Gauteng, and was admitted into a hospital in Sunninghill. The press were initially told that she had suffered cardiac arrest, but later reported that she had slipped into a coma brought on by an asthma attack.[11] The post-mortem report revealed that Fassie had taken an overdose of cocaine on the night of her collapse, and this was the cause of her coma. She stopped breathing and suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen. Fassie was visited in the hospital by Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, and Thabo Mbeki, and her condition was front-page news in South African papers.[5][12] She died aged 39 on 9 May 2004 in hospital, without regaining consciousness, after her life support machines were turned off. According to the South African Sunday Times and the managers of her music company, the post-mortem report also showed that she was HIV-positive. Her manager, Peter Snyman, denied this aspect of the report. Her family, including her long-term partner, were at her side when she died.


Fassie won five South African Music Awards: Best Female Artist and Song of the Year in 1999, Best-Selling Release of the Decade and Best Song of the Decade in 2004, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She also won three Kora Awards: Most Promising Female Artist of Africa and Best Female Artist of Africa in 1996, and the Jury Special Award in 2001. She was voted 17th in the Top 100 Great South Africans.

Her son Bongani "Bongz" Fassie performed "I'm So Sorry", a song dedicated to his mother, on the soundtrack to the 2005 Academy Award-winning movie Tsotsi. In March 2006 a life-size bronze sculpture of Fassie by artist Angus Taylor was installed outside Bassline, a music venue in Johannesburg.[13]


Most of Fassie's records were issued by the EMI-owned CCP Records.

With The Big Dudes:

  • 1983: Weekend Special
  • 1984: Cool Spot (EP)
  • 1984: Let's Stick Together
  • 1984: Someone To Love (Maxi)
  • 1985: Higher and Higher
  • 1985: Touch Somebody (EP)
  • 1986: No No Señor

Solo albums:

Fassie also contributed to Mandoza's album Tornado (2002), Miriam Makeba's album Sangoma (1988), and Harry Belafonte's anti-apartheid album Paradise in Gazankulu (1988). She sang on two of the soundtrack albums for Yizo Yizo (both released in 2004).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brenda Nokuzola Fassie". South African History Online. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  2. ^ Wade, Kergan. "Brenda Fassie: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
  3. ^ Wyatt, Hugh (29 November 1990). "Anger at Injustice Fuels Brenda Fassie's Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b Desa Philadelphia, "Brenda Fassie: Africa: The Madonna Of The Townships", Time, 15 September 2001.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Brenda Fassie: A very human hero". BBC News. London. 10 May 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
  6. ^ Walsh, Declan (10 October 2011). "Brenda Fassie: Brash and brilliant queen of African pop". The Independent. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Brenda Nokuzola Fassie", South African History Online.
  8. ^ Lategan, Annel (18 May 2004). "The life of Brenda Fassie". Women24. Archived from the original on 12 May 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  9. ^ McGregor, Liz (11 May 2004). "Obituary: Brenda Fassie". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  10. ^ Olaoluwa, Senayon (2016). "Singing Peace, Harmonizing Discordant Tunes: Tracking a Transnational Trajectory of Peace". Peace & Change. 41 (4): 475–509. doi:10.1111/pech.12203. ISSN 0149-0508.
  11. ^ Diane Coetzer, "South Africa's Brenda Fassie Dies Aged 39" Archived 16 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Billboard, 10 May 2004.
  12. ^ "South Africans mourn top pop diva". BBC News. London. 11 May 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
  13. ^ "Public Art". Newtown Heritage Trail. Retrieved 11 May 2012.

External links[edit]