Today marks the 14th anniversary of the passing of one of Africa’s greatest musical icons, Brenda Fassie. Known around the world as the “Queen of African Pop”, Brenda 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 2011.
Brenda was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1964, where she was raised by her mother after her father passed away when she was 2. At a tender age, she started earning money by singing to tourists, while her mother, a pianist, played alongside. Brenda climbed her way to the top, beginning as the lead singer in a group called “Brenda and The Big Dudes”, and eventually branching off as a solo artist.
Brenda became well known for her “outrageousness” on stage and was sometimes referred to as the “Black Madonna”. Some of her greatest hits include “Vuli Ndrela”, “Black President”, “Nomakanjani?”, “I’m sorry Mama” and more. Most of her albums went on to become multi-platinum sellers in South Africa.
Brenda had a short two-year marriage to former band member Nhlanhla Mbambo. It is reported that when her marriage ended in 1991, she became addicted to cocaine- and that was the turn of a series of bad events in her life. In 1995, she lost her female lover to an apparent drug overdose, an event that had a detriment effect on the singer. Her career began to suffer, and after many attempts to get back on track, the star never fully recovered. She died in 2004 at the age of 39 after losing consciousness at a hospital in South Africa.
Despite all the controversies surrounding her personal life, Brenda was a trailblazer in the African music industry. She was a musical genius who constantly reinvented herself and always gave fans around the world something special to look forward to. More importantly, she was a revolutionary who lent her voice to important social issues in her country and went on to inspire many people. Her impact on African music is undeniable and her work will continue to impact generations for years to come.
Here, enjoy a playlist of some of our favorite Brenda Fassie classics: