MaBrrr, the Township Madonna.

Gugulethu Nkwayana


image – Gallo records

We don’t take for granted that it’s possible you may not have heard of legendary South African; Brenda Fassie, or perhaps you’ve heard of her but not quite sure who she really was? Think of this as a crash course on MaBrrr as she was fondly called.

Dubbed the “Madonna of the Townships” by Time Magazine in 2001, Brenda Fassie was one of South Africa’s most popular vocalists, fusing African traditional sounds with high energy Afro-pop vibes that was and still remain nothing short of captivating. Gaining most of her popularity in the 1980s, Brenda Fassie wasn’t only known for her onstage brilliance but also made a bit of a name for herself with many of her off-stage antics.

Born Brenda Nokuzola Fassie, in Langa, near Cape Town in 1964. Fassie came from a musical family and began singing at an early age, having formed her first singing group ‘The Tiny Tots‘ at the age of four. She caught the attention of many talent scouts, all singing her praises and predicting her world dominance. She sang backing vocals for other artists until she broke out with Brenda & the Big Dudes. The band went on to record one of their biggest hits in 1986 “Weekend Special.” and soon after, she pursued her solo career with the help of producer Sello “Chicco” Twala enjoying continued success with hits like “Too Late for Mama” and “Black President,” the latter which was banned in apartheid-era South Africa.


Fassie’s career and personal life were highly publicized, no small thanks to her struggle with drugs, failed marriage and fraud charges, all of which took its toll on her music career.

She, however, regained her crown as South Africa’s vocal and Afropop queen with her album Memeza, which was released in 1998 and became the best-selling album of the year in South Africa earning her numerous South African Music Awards (SAMAs).

Brenda Fassie toured Africa and America in the last years of her life but in May of 2004, suffered a severe asthma attack, which was apparently caused by a heart failure linked to her high drug usage, forcing her to be hospitalized.

This physical breakdown was severe and Fassie‘s condition deteriorated quickly. On May 9, 2004, Brenda Fassie passed away and her funeral was held in her hometown in Langa, Cape Town.

14 years on and her music continues to inspire so many during and after her time.

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