Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Bisexuals I never met: Brenda Fassie
I'm not sure now whether or not South African pop star Brenda Fassie was still alive the first time I heard of her, but I remember very distinctly how I heard of her. It was an Arena documentary, re-broadcast on BBC4, all about her and her life, following her comeback and forthcoming wedding to Landile Shembe.
She was an amazing woman - endearing diva, yet down to earth woman; massive star living in what seemed to me an ordinary bungalow; a larger than life character possessed of an amazing voice. She was also openly bisexual, a taboo for many Black South Africans.
Dubbed "Madonna of the Townships" Brenda was born in 1964 in the Cape Flats township outside Cape Town, she started singing at the age of five. Her career proper started in the early 1980s, when she and her band The Dudes recorded their hit song Weekend Special. It's a brilliant piece of music - catchy, cheerful, get up and dance-worthy. Other greatest hits-style tunes followed shortly after.
If she had been American, she would have been world famous. South African singers, though, particularly of the Apartheid era, rarely made it outside of the continent and for a long time the only people who knew of her were Black South Africans, for whom she was a superstar.
A hard life
But her life was also very difficult, and not just because of the political situation. She became addicted to drugs, chose a selection of bad husbands and boyfriends and saw her career go down the toilet. Then, in 1995, her girlfriend Poppie Sihlahla was found dead of an overdose. Brenda, in a drug-induced haze, was lying next to her. This horror sent her into rehab.
But while she recorded some more great songs, now in the specifically South African Kweito genre - including one used by the ANC in their 1999 election campaign - the drug problems continued. As did her bad taste in men. Her teenage son Bongani begged her not to marry the last one. He turned out to be a conman only after her money.
In April 2004 she collapsed at home and slipped into a coma. Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Thabo Mbeki visited her in hospital when she was dying. Although people were initially told it was due to asthma, in fact it was a cocaine overdose; brain damage meant she never regained consciousness and she died in early May.
Her fans react
There was a massive outpouring of grief from all parts of Africa, as can be seen on this rather morbid death site. There's a good obituary here about her life and times.
But her music lives on. You can buy some of her albums here and of course, she has a myspace site where you can play some of her tracks. It's here.
I notice that one of her albums that I possess Memeza (Shout) - her big comeback album - is currently for sale on Amazon from £49.35. But I think I'll keep it thanks.