Erin Currier

Brenda Fassie

Acrylic and mixed media on panel, 16"h x 12"w, Item No. 18840,


Born in Langa, Cape Town, Brenda Nokuzola Fassie (3 November 1964 – 9 May 2004) was a South African popstar, singer, songwriter, activist, and dancer. She is also referred to as "Queen of African Pop", "Madonna of The Townships”, The Black Madonna, and MaBurrr. One of nine children, Brenda was named after American singer Brenda Lee. Her father died when she was two, and with the help of her mother, a pianist, she started earning money by singing for tourists.

At 16 years old in 1981, she received a visit from music producer Koloi Lebona, and left Cape Town for SowetoJohannesburg, to seek her fortune as a singer. Fassie soon became the lead singer for a township music group called Brenda and the Big Dudes. She had a son, Bongani, in 1985 by a fellow Big Dudes musician- whom she briefly married, then divorced. Around this time she became a cocaine addict. With outspoken views and frequent visits to the poorer townships of Johannesburg, as well as songs about life in the townships, she enjoyed tremendous popularity. She was, in the words of the New York Times, the ‘piercing siren of the dispossessed’—using her music to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1989, she released the song "Black President" as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner and later the first Black president of South Africa. In 1995, she was discovered in a hotel with the body of her female lover, Poppie Sihlahla, who had died of an apparent overdose. Fassie underwent rehabilitation and got her career back on track. However, she returned to drug rehabs about 30 times in her life. From 1996 she released several solo albums, including Now Is the TimeMemeza (1997), and Nomakanjani?. Most of her albums became multi-platinum sellers in South Africa; Memeza was the best-selling album in South Africa in 1998. Fassie won numerous prestigious awards— both before her untimely death at age 39, and posthumously. 

Fassie’s music reflects her fiery and fearless spirit— one that defied the oppressive status quo of her time. I strove to celebrate this with my use of ephemera: tea packets inscribed with the word ‘fierce’; a discarded Italian leopardskin paper sack; a Bangkok queer club card cut into small bits; vibrant packaging found on the streets of a Mexican beach town.