The life of Brenda Fassie

Brenda Fassie, SA's music diva, passed away after suffering from a severe asthma attack. This was her life...

Brenda Fassie, the African queen of pop died recently. According to reports she passed away peacefully in her sleep late one Sunday afternoon. She was in hospital for over two weeks after she suffered a fatal asthma attack, which lead to cardio-respiratory arrest. On late Friday afternoon doctors warned her faimly that her condition was deteriorating.

According to newspaper reports Brenda was at home with her brother, Themba, when she started stomping on the floor to get his attention. She couldn’t breathe.

"She screamed my name, she couldn’t breathe and I took her outside for some fresh air," he told The Star. Temba rushed her to the hospital fearing an ambulance might take too long.

According to Brenda’s manager, Peter Snyman, she has been battling asthma for years. He also rushed to the hospital after receiving the news. The Star reports him saying, “When I arrived she was dead. She stopped breathing, her heart stopped beating and doctors had to resuscitate her”.

This is possibly where media reports claiming “Brenda is dead” originated while she was still alive. Her family was horrified at the media’s poor handling of the situation and the spread of falsities. Even president Thabo Mbeki asked the media for responsible and respectful reporting.

What exactly caused the asthma attack is still unclear. Speculation holds it might have something to do with her drug habits. However, Brenda has been known for her honesty and openness about her personal life, including her drug binges and sexual preference for women, so, there's little reason why it would be covered up if it were indeed related to her drug taking. Perhaps the family feels different about spilling the beans? Who knows?

Brenda's life story:

Forty years ago, Fassie’s mother was expecting a boy. To her surprise a baby girl was born that year, 1964, in Langa. Searching for a name, she decided to call her after the American country singer Brenda Lee.

Brenda was born and bred a music star (her mom was a pianist and probably the reason for her musical genes) and at the age of four Brenda was already singing to the sounds of her mother’s piano. A year later she started making money out of it by singing for tourists.

Her voice soon became a legend in the township. At sixteen (some sources say 14) she received a visit from a well-known producer, Koloi Lebona. He came all the way from Johannesburg to Langa one Christmas to see what the musicians were raving about. Accompanied by her mother’s piano, Brenda performed for Koloi. According E.M.I Music he described her voice as "different to anything I had heard until then. I knew it was the voice of the future".

That year she left with Koloi for Johannesburg and soon after arriving joined the group Joy. Next, she starred in Blondie and Papa before she formed Brenda and the Big Dudes. At the young age of 19 she recorded her first hit single, Weekend Special. The hits just followed. She became a star.

In her twenties she was already an old hand in the music industry. When rumors of drug abuse surfaced, many argued it was because she gained too much fame too fast. In typical Brenda fashion she faced the press and confirmed the allegations; she admitted she was a drug-addict and a Lesbian.

According to the website Nation Audio the early 90s was a turbulent time for Brenda.

  • She was sued for fraud in 1990 together with then husband Nhlanhla Mbambo (an ex-convict).
  • A year later their marriage broke up and she accused him of being a wife beater.
  • Also in 1992 she was convicted of assaulting a photojournalist.
  • In 1993 her mother died.
  • In 1994 Brenda struggled to record her album, Abantu Bayakuluma due to indulgence in cocaine. "I can’t remember a thing, I was so high," she admitted later when asked how the recording with Papa Wemba went.
  • In 1995 she was booked into a rehab after admitting she was on drugs.

    It was around this time when a change came about in Brenda’s life. One morning she woke up in a seedy Hillbrow hotel. Next to her was her close friend and lover Poppie Sihlahla - dying of a drug overdose. Nation Audio reports Brenda said they often rented hotel rooms in the area to binge on cocaine. But that morning Poppie was unconscious and Brenda in a drug stupor. Poppie died on the way to hospital. It changed Brenda’s life and she decided to get down to serious business.

    In 1998 she released Mameza (Shout) – Brenda was back. It became SA’s best selling release of the year and went platinum on its first day of release. But it wasn't the end of Brenda’s personal problems.

    Since then she got engaged to a conman, who was allegedly only after her money. They broke up five days after the engagement. Before that she was also in the news when then girlfriend, Karen Baker, accused her of stealing her money. Brenda disagrees, she says they sold Karen’s possessions for drug money and they did it together.

    Despite all of this, her next album, 'Nomakanjani' went triple platinum in just a few months. The last few years her lyrics addressed more complex issues surrounding African culture. She mostly stopped singing in English and her vocals were mostly in Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. Her music was vibrant and she often performed outside of South Africa, she was not going to be beaten...

    Brenda Fassie has tried to commit suicide three times in her life. Many of her love relationships turned sour, she had a few run-ins with the law and a long history with drugs. It was not an easy life. But despite all the drug problems and setbacks, no one can argue that Brenda was a star and a true musical genius.

    Images: City Press

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    Call line for mourners

    You can send your condolences to Brenda's family and listen to other messages of condolence by calling 082-234-2004. You can also listen to some of her previously unreleased work by calling the number. It is also possible to find out details of the funeral arrangements.
    Normal cellphone rates apply.

    - Women24

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