Hit Maker

Key to Brenda Fassie's big break was Melvyn Matthews, who wrote Weekend Special, the song that made her the first local act ever to make it to Billboard's Top 100.

"Her big break [came] when the world-famous South African singing trio Joy of Paradise Road fame, [were] looking for a singer to replace Anneline Malebo, who [was] pregnant."

- "Hamba Kahle Brenda", Saturday Star, May 8, 2004

"Koloi Lebona, in an interview with This Day, remarked: 'Then in 1980, one of the singers from the band Joy fell pregnant and went on maternity leave. As luck would have it, Brenda was wooed by Joy's management to stand in for her.' Following the return of Anneline Malebo, Brenda left the band 'and joined Blondie and Papa [Makhene] as a backup singer before starting her own band, Brenda and Big Dudes'."

- "That voice sent goose pimples down my spine", This Day, May 11, 2004

"Melvin Matthews, the man who wrote Weekend Special and Life is Going On, recalled: 'Initially the song was not for Brenda, but after hearing her voice, I thought she was better suited for it. I couldn't have chosen a better person. She really rocked. She should have been an international star.'"

-"Hamba kahle, SA's favourite", Sowetan, May 14, 2004

"At the age of 14, Brenda went in search of the greener - albeit neon-lit - pastures of Jo'burg, the Vegas of Africa. Just four years later, her hit Weekend Special made her the first local act ever to make it to Billboard's Top 100... Weekend Special was written by Melvyn Matthews, the key to her success as a hit-maker... I finally corner Melvyn at Brenda's memorial service in Soweto, a week before she is cremated. Matthews has been off the scene for 20 years.

Too emotional for comfort, I switch on the tape and let him talk: 'I taught Brenda the lyrics and worked with her, verse for verse. She had difficulty pronouncing English and cut corners quite a lot. She sang in her Xhosa-ised English, tinged with clicks. But her passion made up for everything. Even at that age [18] she was an emotional artist who would turn any song into a Brenda song. She had feeling, timing, melody, heart and rhythm. She lifted my lyrics to a chaotic beauty I had never imagined.'

The single became a radio and club hit long before it was released as an LP, and Matthews - then just a 17-year-old teenager himself - made sure she had another hit to go with it. Life is Going On, a gospel-like tune dipped in the blues, is what made Brenda a megastar. Dragging and slurring her sometimes tenor, sometimes falsetto, on Life is Going On, Brenda's voice reflected a tortured soul."

- www.sundaytimes.co.za/SpecialReports/BookAwards/Article.aspx?id>458576


"Weekend Special sold more than 200 000 copies, not only in South Africa but also further afield. Fassie's following burgeoned... Weekend Special made it onto the dance charts in Britain and enjoyed limited success in the United States."

- "More than a pop star, township diva set SA music world on fire", Sunday Independent, May 9, 2004

"Weekend Special became the fastest-selling single of its time - and one of the most influential recordings in local music. It was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. In March 1986 it entered the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart, and was promoted by concerts in the United States, Britain, Europe, Brazil and Australia. In New York Weekend Special, was remixed and released by Capitol Records, charting for a full eight weeks."

-"Tracing the roots of Africa's pop queen", Sunday Times, May 9, 2004


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
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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”