Grande Maison


“I like to create controversy. It’s my trademark”

“I left Cape Town when I was fourteen. I wanted to go and be something. My mother was against that. Not that she was against me singing, but she was against the fact that I’m so young and wanna go to Joburg. What I decided to do was to take my clothes outside. Every day I took my clothes outside the window until there were about four, five outfits. Then I took a plastic bag and off I went.” Brenda Fassie

Brenda Fassie, the wild child of South African pop who was beloved as the piercing siren of the dispossessed under apartheid, died on May 9, 2004. She was 39. Also known as Mabrrr, Fassie grew up in the rough township of Langa, Capetpown in the 60s. Ma Brrr, one of South Africa’s fiercest and most controversial musicians. The Time Magazine called her 'Madonna of the Townships'. Fassie formed her own band, The Tiny Tots, aged five and would charge tourists to hear her sing. She rose to fame at the age of 19 with her all-male band, The Big Dudes and their hit "Weekend Special”, a song in which Fassie shouts down her part-time married lover, hollering "I’m no weekend, weekend special." It became popular with white audiences because of its American disco style.

“I do not. I must break it here first. People must go crazy for me here first. Boer of nie boer nie, black or white. They must go Brenda Fassie! Brenda Fassie! As much as they go Michael Jackson! Or Madonna! This is my country and I have to prove myself here first.” Brenda Fassie

It wasn’t until three years later, that Fassie started making the kind of music that the world would know her for. She started recording with producer Sella “Chicco” Twala, resulting in the 1989 album, Too Late for Mama. Departing from the disco feel of her early tracks, the album was much truer to township music Mbaqanga – but with added drum machines and slick production. This Mbaganga-pop hybrid, known as Bubblegum, was a style Chicco was famed for, and one that Fassie’s impressive range and childlike intonations lent themselves to.

Among several political tracks on the record was “Black President”, written around Mandela’s release from prison. It opened with the verse, “The year 1963/The people's president/Was taken away by security men/All dressed in a uniform/The brutality, brutality/Oh no, my, my black president”. It was immediately banned by the de Klerk government.

Fassie was becoming synonymous with provocation, but the frenetic energy of her stage performances was beginning to bubble over into her private life. The outspoken Fassie went through drug addiction, divorce, the death of her lesbian lover, she checked in and out of rehab facilities, and more. Yet throughout her turbulent life she continued to deliver the goods, becoming the biggest-selling artist South Africa has produced. Whoever tells Fassie’s story will remind us that she could sing like no other, and that she gave us music to last a lifetime. Beyond the politics and the music, however, it should never be forgotten that Fassie was always enveloped by a deep sadness.

Brenda Fassie was many things: immensely talented, tempestuous and outrageous being among them. She has been called a pioneer, a trendsetter and an icon. She grew up black and a woman in a country that hated black people and women. As Fassie herself once said: “I wanna be loved. I just wanna be loved.”