Hamba kahle Brenda

Brenda Fassie (39) died shortly after 5pm on Sunday, said her manager Peter Snyman. Fassie had been admitted to the Sunninghill Hospital after an asthma attack two weeks ago.

She had been in a coma since her admission and on Friday doctors had advised the family there was nothing more they could do to reverse her condition. Since Friday, Brenda had continued to breath spontaneously with the help of a ventilator.

“The family has decided to leave the matter in God’s hands,” a statement said at the time.

“Madonna of the townships”

Called the “Madonna of the townships”, after the US pop icon, Fassie lived a turbulent, controversial and at times self-destructive life.
Industry insiders and admirers noted her more extreme behaviour threatened to undermine her exceptional musical talent—but she remained one of the biggest sellers the country has ever produced.

Fassie, also known as “the girl with the golden voice”, “South Africa’s queen of pop” and “undisputed queen of the vocals”, was at the forefront of black South African popular music for 20 years.

Born in 1964 in Langa on the Cape Flats, Fassie was named after US country singer Brenda Lee. Her musical future was given a kickstart when producer Koloi Lebona heard her sing in 1979, at the age of 16.

Koloi recalled: “I had five or six musicians raving to me about her voice and so I decided to hear it for myself. I had no trouble finding her mother Sarah’s house in Langa—everyone was talking about Brenda. And when I got there Brenda sang several standards for me while her mother played the piano.

“There was something special about her voice. It was different to anything I had heard until then and was very mature for a 16-year-old. I knew it was the voice of the future.”

He brought her back to Johannesburg where she joined the band Joy as a stand-in singer. Fassie soon left school and joined Blondie and Papa.

In 1983, as part of Brenda and the Big Dudes, Fassie hit the big time with “Weekend Special”—which became the fastest selling record of the time and entered the Billboard Hot Black singles chart in 1986. Brenda and the Big Dudes subsequently toured the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and Brazil.

Fassie teamed up with the record producer Sello “Chicco” Twala in the late 1980s. Twala is often credited for launching Fassie into superstardom with the album “Too Late For Mama”, which became a multi-platinum seller.

Following her early success, Fassie headed into a downward spiral, spending, by her own admission, much of the early 1990s in a cocaine haze. She married jailbird Nhlanhla Mbambo in 1989 and divorced him in 1991 amid accusations that he was a leech and a wife-beater.

She missed gigs, was sued by various concert promoters and sunk into debt. Her son Bongani was thrown out of school for non-payment of fees. In 1993, her mother died and her relationship with Twala broke down.

Her lover Poppie Sihlahla died of an alleged drug overdose in a hotel in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, in 1995. Brenda was found lying next to her in a drug-induced stupor. After this low-point, Fassie was booked into a drug rehabilitation centre.

Following treatment, the star worked as a producer on the acclaimed album “Now is the Time” which featured two duets with Zairian music legend, Papa Wemba.

The affectionately-termed Ma-Brrr then teamed up with Twala once again in 1997 to record what would be her comeback album, “Memeza” (Shout). It was South Africa’s best selling album of 1998. Her next release “Nomakanjani” in 1999 sold more than 500 000 copies.

“Tell everyone Brenda’s back,” Fassie declared. But this was not an end to her drug and alcohol demons. Fassie was booked into rehabilitation centres several more times over the next five years.

She was also involved in a turbulent affair with Sindi Khambule (29) characterised by domestic violence and public displays of affection until the two parted ways. In 1999 Fassie was on top of the world when she scooped the Kora Award for the best female artist.

“I’m going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible,” she said.

For four years in a row Fassie won the SA Music Awards award for best selling release for the albums Memeza, Amadlozi, Nomakanjani and Mina Nawe. All the albums earned the title of the country’s most popular album in the year of their release.

Fassie’s popularity spread through most of Africa and she toured the United States in 2001, leading to hopes that she could become an international pop star.

Time magazine devoted three pages to Fassie in December 2001, headlined “The Madonna of the Townships”. The article focused on her extraordinary talent, but also mentioned Fassie’s drug use, bisexuality and diva-like tantrums.

She celebrated her 39th birthday recently with the release of her new album Mali. - Sapa

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