Barbs and Snipes

Brenda Fassie may have had more fans than she had detractors, but her critics hit hard.

"A report on Brenda Fassie in World Music: The Rough Guide suggest[ed] that: 'Lyrically, Fassie's songs [were] a mish-mash of the latest township lingo, sometimes barely comprehensible even to locals, but they stick in the minds of her listeners.'"- Njabulo Ndebele's thoughts on Brenda Fassie

- "Brenda, a part of us", This Day, May 7, 2004


"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. Much of it [was] bubblegum, yes, but why should we now deny that perhaps we needed bubblegum as an antidote to the high ideals of political struggle? Why should we pretend that there was a strict dividing line between those who sang freedom songs and toyi-toyed at mass rallies, and those who got down to Weekend Special and Too Late for Mama in packed nightclubs all over the country. The truth is that we were most times the same people, and that Fassie helped us to cross over without apology to one group or the other. Her music was pure township, and township during the Eighties was political by definition."

- "What Brenda meant to South Africa", This Day, May 11, 2004


"There is no better illustration of the inappropriate inscriptions of generic labelling than the term applied to the popular black dance music style that preceded kwaito in the 1980s: 'bubblegum'. In a stereotypical sense, bubblegum begins and ends with the recent tragically ended career of Brenda Fassie, whose first big hit recording with the Big Dudes in 1983, Weekend Special, was political only in the sexual sense of protesting the subordinate romantic status of the 'weekends-only' girlfriend of the philandering African man. Perhaps it was this perceived shallowness in the midst of the gathering political storm that led some radio disk jockey to dismiss the new style of township pop as 'bubblegum': a childish tease in which the initial burst of sweetness quickly vanishes on the tongue. And yet today over two decades later there is hardly a local kwaito or pop music diva who does not cite Fassie's inspiration." - David Copland, University of the Witwatersrand. Published in African Studies, Volume 64, Number 1, July 2005



"In the wake of her hit debut album, Brenda and The Big Dudes - comprising of pianist Dumisani Ngobeni (who would father Brenda's only child, Bongani), bassist Sammy Klaas and drummer David Mabaso - set about launching the loudest pop revue of all time. It would last over a decade... Their work was studded with unforgettable hits, but was also weighed down with mediocre commercial tracks articulating the emptiness of the townships."



back to the Brenda Fassie memorial page

"I like to create controversy. I'm going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible."
Brenda Fassie
Brenda Fassie, 1984
Picture: Joe Sefale © Sunday Times


Newspaper sources: An exercise in image-making

In this lesson plan, learners are asked to think about different images that the media communicate. They will see that one person can be represented in many different ways, or that one person has different sides. Brenda Fassie was a very complex person.

Lesson page
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
Archive Photo Gallery
MaBrrr channels Madonna and other great divas.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Watch the Brenda sculpture develop from clay mould to glowing likeness of the queen of African pop.
Orbituary audio archive
Listen to SAfm/Metro FM’s obituary of Brenda, broadcast on May 10, 2004 (5’42").
Go on a 360° virtual tour of the Brenda Fassie memorial, located at Bassline, in the Newtown precinct of Johannesburg.
Madiba remembers Princess Brenda
Madiba describes his surprise when he heard Princess Brenda coming down the stairs in his house
Zola Budd Track
The Sunday Times Heritage Project’s first memorial is to Brenda Fassie, a woman variously described as the Queen of African pop and the Madonna of the Townships
Brenda Fassie and Zola Budd
MaBrrr struts her stuff and takes on taxi drivers with her big hit, “Zola Budd”