Madonna of the Township
Brenda Fassie was one of South Africa’s biggest home-grown stars and what her record company EMI described as, “a once-in-a-generation artist, a true idol”. Today a life-size bronze sculpture of the late Superstar stands outside the well-known Bassline music venue in Newtown.
The bronze sculpture, by artists Angus Taylor, stands 1574 metres tall. Fassie is perched on a barstool, her mic in front of her. Next to her is an empty barstool, inviting passers-by to take a seat and 'chat' to her.The stool is a way to encourage people to interact with the sculpture. Embossed in bronze in tiny letters are a number of quotes by Fassie., why not take the time to stop and look for them.
Brenda Fassie was an anti-apartheid Afropop singer, born in Langa, Cape Town where she sang alongside her Mother on the piano, after her Father’s death, to help earn money. She was discovered by renowned Producer Koloi Labona at age 16 and she moved to the “White City” Soweto, Johannesburg to join the group Joy. Brenda went on to start her own band, Brenda and the Big Dudes.
Her first recording was made in 1983 with the hit single “Weekend Special”, which became the fastest-selling record at the time. The song enjoyed great international popularity, and Brenda and the Big Dudes toured to the United States, Britain, Europe, Australia and Brazil. Brenda also established herself as a solo artist and her album “Too Late for Mama” achieved platinum status in 1989.
During this time, Brenda's personal life was widely publicised, her broken marriage and her drug and alcohol abuse problems. Her drug habits hampered her music career until she went to a drug rehabilitation centre in 1995 after which her 1998 album became the best-selling South African release of the year and earned her numerous South African Music Awards (SAMAs). In 1999 she received the Kora award for the best female artist. Her next album, Nomakanjani, reached triple platinum status within a few months of its release.
On 9 May 2004 Brenda Fassie passed away after she had slipped into a coma, two weeks earlier. After her death it was confirmed that her heart failure was caused by a drug overdose. Furthermore, it is believed that the crack cocaine which she had smoked the night before her cardiac arrest was laced with rat poison.
Recent pilgrims to her hospital bedside included Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, a measure of her importance to her country.
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