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The Queen of African Pop - Brenda Fassie

Dec 16, 2020 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
brenda fassie

Born on November 3rd, 1964 in Langa township near Cape Town, Brenda Nokuzola Fassie was born. She was named after the American country singer Brenda Lee, and as the daughter of a pianist, Fassie began singing to her mother's accompaniment at a very young age, and at five years old, she had tourists paying to hear her sing. She soon became well-known for her singing in her township and started her band, The Tiny Tots.

At 16, renowned music producer Koloi Lebona visited her family after many Cape Town musicians told them about Fassie. At 16 years old, Fassie left Cape Town for Soweto, Johannesburg, and joined the vocal group, Joy. She later became the lead singer for a township music group called Brenda and the Big Dudes. In 1985, at the age of 21, Fassie had a son, Bongani, with fellow Big Dudes musicians. It was during the 1980s, that the hit single ‘Weekend Special’, was released and it garnered great international popularity. Brenda and the Big Dudes toured to the United States, Britain, Europe, Australia, and Brazil.


In the late 1980s, she decided to become a solo pop star and began working with music producer Sello ‘Chicco’ Twala, and produced the album Too Late for Mama which achieved platinum status in 1989. Also in 1989, she got married but in 1991, she and her ex-husband Nhlanhla Mbambo got divorced. Unfortunately, it was in the early 1990s that her cocaine addiction began to affect her career until she went to a drug rehabilitation center in 1995. In 1996, she made a comeback as the producer of her album Now is the Time, which featured two duets with Democratic Republic of Congo music legend, Papa Wemba. She released two more albums in the late 1990s with Memeza (Shout) becoming the best-selling album in South Africa in 1998. She regularly toured the African continent as well as the United States.

Fassie has won five South African Music Awards: Best Female Artist and Song of the Year in 1999, Best-selling Release of the Decade and Best Song of the Decade in 2004, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She has also won three Kora Awards for Most promising Female Artist of Africa and Best Female Artist of Africa in 1996, and the Jury Special Award in 2001. She was voted 17th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004 and Fassie was one of South Africa’s first black female artists to receive international recognition- being dubbed ‘The Madonna of Townships’ by Time Magazine in 2001, with a three-page special.

South Africa’s first democratic president, the late Nelson Mandela, with the late pop sensation, Brenda Fassie


In April 2004, Fassie was rushed to a Johannesburg hospital with cardiac arrest, and although doctors resuscitated her, she slipped into a coma for two weeks. Sadly on May 9th, 2004 at the age of 39, Fassie passed away. It was believed that heart failure from an asthma track was the cause of her death, but new evidence was found, and it was a drug overdose that caused heart failure.

“Nobody could predict what Brenda would do when she got on to the stage,” said fellow South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka in an interview with The Citizen. “But she would make the stage come alive with her vibrant energy and spirit. She was born to entertain, and she did that right up until her end.” In March 2006, a bronze sculpture of Fassie by artist Angus Taylor was developed outside the Bassline music venue in Newtown, Johannesburg.


South African History Online


SA Venues

The Citizen

 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.