Brenda ‘MaBrrr’ Fassie: The Black Madonna of the Townships

Brenda ‘MaBrrr’ Fassie: The Black Madonna of the Townships

The legacy of Brenda Fassie will forever be burnt into the hearts of South African's. From 1964-2004 MaBrrr was a star that shone brightly in the sky. Although she was gone far too soon, she will live eternally in the echos of our country's history.

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Celebrating the life of Brenda Fassie on what would have been her 57th birthday. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie was South Africa's very own princess of pop. The singer electrified both home and international shores with her music. On what would have been her 57th birthday, Briefly News has taken the time to remember the colourful life of MaBrrr.

Brenda Fassie early life

Brenda Nokuzola Fassie was born on 3 November 1964. She was raised in a township just outside of Cape Town called Langa, where she was introduced to her life passion, music. Brenda was the daughter of a pianist, so melody's flowed through her veins naturally.

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From a young age, she enjoyed singing tunes with her mother by her side. Before she could even read or write, she had already figured out how to make money using her gift of entertaining.

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According to Legacy Project Chicago, at five years old she would put on shows at her local church and tourists, locals, friends and family would pay to watch her on the stage. Being the clever kid she was, she started her very first band called the Tiny Tots.

Brenda Fassie, Early Life, Career, Singer, Performer
Brenda Fassie in the early days of her career. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie rise to fame

By the time Brenda was 16, she had already made a name for herself among Cape Townian musicians. When a producer from Johannesburg named Koloi Lebone came in town looking for fresh talent, her name was topping lists.

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After a few discussions and an agreement to finish school, Brenda found herself living in Soweto. The young musician stayed hungry for an opportunity to showcase her talent. So when one of the members of a trio named Joy went on maternity leave, she sprung on the chance to replace her.

South African History Online writes that Joining Joy catapulted a young Brenda into a full-blown music career. When she left the trio she joined a roadshow called Blondie and Papa and once that went stale she formed a part of Brenda and the Big Dudes. She was on fire!

The '80s were a great decade for Brenda's career. The singer released some of her most popular songs during this time. In 1983 she dropped one of her most famous singles Weekend Special. The song did rounds in South Africa and made international debut's, resulting in a world tour for Brenda and the Big Dudes.

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Brenda and the Big Dudes in their prime. Image: Spotify
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie, Personal Life Marriage and Children

When Brenda gained more and more fame, her personal life became a spectacle. While Brenda and the Big Dudes were thriving, love connections were being made. Brenda fell in love with band member Dumisani Ngubeni and in 1985 they welcomed their son Bongani.

Their romance was short-lived as they soon divorced. Brenda was in her prime at that time, so she did not struggle to find love again. She met a man named Nhlanhla Mlambo whom she married in 1989.

The couple had a tumultuous relationship. SA History reports that the marriage only lasted a year as the couple faced legal battles and accusations of fraudulent actions.

Brenda Fassie, Bongani Fassie, Marriage, Child, Divorce, Personal Life
Brenda Fassie had two marriages and divorces in the '80s as well as her son Bongani in 1985. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie's activism

Fassie was a fiery activist in both music and her personal life. In 1990 she wrote a song called The Black President as an ode to the still imprisoned struggle hero Nelson Mandela. Legacy Project reports that to solidify her political stance, the singer vowed to never release another English song again. She said:

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"I am proud to be an African."

Brenda was also a pioneer in the LQBTQI+ community of South Africa. After her marriage to Nhlanhla Mlambo came to an end, her bisexuality was made public. In a time when homosexuality was taboo in South Africa, she paved the way for many to come out and be their true selves. She later found love with her long term partner Gloria Chaka.

ZAlebs reports that she helped aid the fight to legalise gay marriage in South Africa. Brenda spoke publically about her desire to legally settle down with Gloria. In an interview she said:

"We'll get married. We'll make a decision when we're ready. I believe that as a South African music icon, I should be granted my rights."
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Brenda Fassie was a major advocate and politics and sexuality. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie's battle with drug addiction

With the failure of her marriage and the media heavily focusing on her bisexuality, Brenda was also battling an addiction to crack cocaine. Her reliance on drug use resulted in the demise of her massive music career.

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New York Times reported that in 1995 she was admitted into a rehab facility. Her entry into rehab was probed by an incident that shocked her to the core. She was discovered in a hotel with the body of her then-girlfriend Poppie Sihlahla who had died from an overdose.

After that incident, she was then in and out of treatment several times.

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Brenda Fassie entered rehab after her lover Poppie died of an overdose. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie, music and awards

Brenda's life and music earned her recognition from all across the globe. In 2001 Times Magazine wrote a three-page spread about her. Having cemented her place as South Africa's princess of pop, the publication nicknamed her The Madonna of the Townships.

Here are just a few awards that she won during her career:

  • Kora Award for Most Promising Female Artist of Africa (1996)
  • South African Music Award Winner Best Female Artist (1999)
  • South African Music Award Winner Song of the Year (1999)
  • South African Music Award Winner Best Selling Release of the Decade (2004)
  • Posthumous South African Music Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2005)

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Life-size Bronze Statue of Fassie by Artist Angus Taylor Installed Outside Bassline Music Venue in Johannesburg South Africa (2006). Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Brenda Fassie Death

26 April 2004 rocked Brenda Fassie fans around the world. The star was rushed to the hospital for cardiac arrest. After multiple attempts at resuscitating her, she slipped into a coma. She spent two weeks sedated in the hospital while fans cried and prayed for her.

On 9 May 2004, she sadly passed away at the age of 39, after doctors believed she had an asthma attack. News 24 reported that after further investigation, it was found that Brenda's cocaine contained traces of rat poison, thus changing her cause of death to a drug overdose.

Her funeral service was held back in her home town of Langa. What a beautiful way to end the tragic story, by taking it right back to where it began.

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Brenda Fassie passed away at the age of 39 in a hospital in Johannesburg. Image: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Source: Briefly News

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