Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Remembering an African Icon: Brenda Fassie (MaBrr) 3 Nov 1964 - 9 May 2004

The Late Brenda Fassie
Source: Lastfm
The late great South African musical icon Brenda Fassie may be remembered by some only for her infectious hit Vulindlela that took the African continent by storm in the late 90s and early '00s. However, for many of us growing up in Southern Africa in the 80s and 90s, Brenda Fassie's music was the soundtrack of our lives. Her early pop hits were the songs we used to sing along to in the playground in primary school while in high school, her kwaito tracks were the stuff of intricately choreographed dance routines. 
In fact from the late 1980s through the 90s there was a transition in  Brenda Fassie's music from pop songs mainly in English to the dance rhythms of kwaito almost exclusively in local South African languages. As Brenda Fassie reached the height of her career during this period, not only was she known for the music but also for the offstage drama that managed to fill newspapers and tabloids.

Despite all the drama, it came as a complete shock to me when Brenda Fassie tragically passed away at the age of 39 years in 2004 just months after I saw her perform live at the Ghana Music Awards.

So I was just thinking to myself. Today marks 8 years since the passing of one of my favorite musical icon and out of the plethora of her songs, which would be my ultimate favorite? This is actually a very hard question. 

Would it be Zola Budd the hit that celebrated the Johannesburg mini-van taxis nicknamed Zola Budd after the South African long distance runner of the time Zola Budd

Would it be Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. The song that encapsulated the Zulu proverb "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (a person is a person because of people) and described Brenda Fassie's gratitude to others? This song had a really glitzy video involving a plane and runway. I am sure we still have it on VHS somewhere.

Would my favorite be No No No Senor? A song with an amusing video that replicated an American Western (or more like a Spaghetti western) with Brenda as a heroine saved by a cowboy on horseback complete with a stetson. I kid you not.

There are just too many songs to choose from. There's Brenda's ode to Mr. Nelson Mandela in Black President which was years before he actually became the first black president of South Africa.  There is also Boipatong  featuring the powerful vocals of Tsepho Tshola of the band Sankomota dedicated to those killed in the tragic Boipatong Massacre of 1992. 

Who could also forget Too Late for Mama that tells the story of a mother struck by lightning on the way to fetch water. I am really confused why google keeps linking this track with Alicia Keys. Or did I miss Alicia Keys re-doing a Brenda song completely?

Still among the Brenda anthology there is the ultimate early dance  track Istraight Lendaba which along with Higher and Higher were hits around the time that kwaito music was just emerging as a genre. 

There are the later kwaito classics like Qula, Ngeke Umconfirm, Nomakanjani, Amagents (an angry response to another South African musician), the very dark Memeza and of course Vulindlela

So I thought about it long and hard. My ultimate favorite Brenda Fassie song would have to be the very first one I ever heard when I was still a child. The video featured a young 19 year old Brenda Fassie belting her heart out in It's nice to be with people when she was still billed as 'Brenda Fassie and The Big Dudes'. This was before the fame, before the drama and before the tragedy.

Sadly, I can't find the original video on the internet:

When Time Magazine described Brenda Fassie as the Madonna of the Townships in a 2001 article, I for one thought they got it completely wrong. Brenda Fassie was not the Madonna of the Townships, Madonna was the Brenda Fassie of America. 

Brenda Fassie aka MaBrr; fondly remembered and forever cherished.

1 comment:

Navratna said...

Great post!! very informative.
Thank you very much for such a lovely and informative post.