Brenda Fassie

The Queen of African Pop

November 3 1964 — May 9 2004
Artist: Angus Taylor
Location: Bassline, Newtown precinct, Johannesburg
Angus Taylor’s life-size bronze sculpture of the late superstar, Brenda Fassie, does more than provide a likeness: it allows the public to engage with it — by literally climbing onto it.
Picture: Craig Mathews © South African History Archive

Brenda Fassie, known as the Madonna of the townships, was one of Africa’s biggest home-grown stars, South Africa’s top-selling local artist and what her record company EMI called “a once-in-a-generation artist, a true idol”. But for most she was MaBrrr or simply Brenda, a phenomenon like no other. As Brenda once said while talking to fans on Umhlobo Wenene FM, “I will always be this way.”

From The Archives
Child Star
Brenda rose quickly from childhood to stardom. Starting out as a determined young dreamer in Langa, Cape Town, she was discovered by independent producer Koloi Lebona, who brought her to White City, Soweto.
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.
One Time
Brenda Fassie was a true original. There was nobody else like her. As producer Koloi Lebona says: "In terms of uniqueness of voice, that fresh approach to her songs, there was no one like Brenda."
Brenda and the Big Moods
Flamboyant, emotional and generous to a fault, Brenda Fassie could also be cruel and imperious. Notoriously volatile and deeply sensitive, she wasn’t always in control of her complex personality.
Caught in the Glare
Brenda Fassie had a deeply ambiguous relationship with the media, sometimes brazenly wooing journalists and at other times beating them up or hurling abuse at them.
Ways of Dying
Brenda Fassie’s coma and death stirred up a frenzy of activity, with fans, friends and hangers-on singing hymns and prayers in an ongoing vigil of vain hope.
Whose Name is it Anyway?
Fans, friends and media hounds alike christened Brenda Fassie with a wealth of catchy nicknames.
Jozi Girl
Brenda Fassie liked to get around the city she lived in, inhabiting Joburg and its environs like a pair of tight-cut jeans.
Barbs and Snipes
Brenda Fassie may have had more fans than she had detractors, but her critics hit hard.
African Queen
Although her keenest fans occupied home turf, Brenda Fassie’s music also enjoyed overwhelming popularity across the rest of the African continent.
Life Stories
Once in a Generation
When Brenda Fassie’s record company called her a "once-in-a-generation artist, a true idol", they knew they had backed pure gold.
Young Fassie Immortalised in Bronze
The Heritage Project’s bronze sculpture of the late singer, Brenda Fassie, sets a new trend for South African heritage.
MaBrrr Lives Again as we Celebrate History
The Sunday Times’s Gwen Gill attends the unveiling of the Brenda Fassie memorial and finds it joyous — despite the historical edge.
Queen of Excess
Babalwa Shota joins Fassie and her all-girl crew in a radio studio for a six-pack of ciders at the launch of 'Mina Nawe'.
Life is Goin' On
Bongani Madondo was so diva-stated when Fassie died that he swore never to write anything about her again — but not before this swan song.
Making the Memorial
Who is Angus Taylor?
Nonewcomer to public art, Angus Taylor has completed several commissions for government, local councils, private companies and individuals.
The Light Bulb Moment - The Artist's Concept
After spending days going through Fassie's dvds, photographs and famous quotes, Taylor knew exactly how to portray the late controversial songstress.
"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”