Brenda Fassie in concert. Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times /Joe Sefale

The 10 Best Brenda Fassie Songs

We look back at Brenda Fassie's musical legacy with a countdown of her ten best songs.

Iconic South African singer Brenda Fassie would have been 52 today. Whether you know her as “the Queen of Afropop" or “the Madonna of the Townships," she was a larger-than-life influence on the music of the continent.

I met Fassie once. It was the mid-90s and she arrived at the music store I was working at in Hillbrow, Johannesburg just before closing time on a weekday evening. I immediately grabbed a 12" copy of “Kuyoze Kuyovalwa" and asked her to autograph it. After spelling my name for her, I still ended up as “Graig." I think she probably heard me, but she wasn't beholden to anyone but herself.

Fassie then insisted on listening to all our latest cassettes while she sat on the security guard's stool at the shop's door. The security detail was jittery—we closed the shop like clockwork at 10:30pm, and this was Hillbrow. But this was Brenda. The rest of the world stopped for her.

MaBrrr's life is way too rich for this piece alone—for anyone interested check out Bongani Madondo's book, “I'm Not Your Weekend Special," or this documentary. We'll just concentrate on her musical legacy here with her ten best songs.

10. “Kuyoze Kuyovalwa" (1994)

Kwaito pioneer Arthur Mafokate had just exploded with “Kaffir" when he was drafted in for production duties on “Kuyoze Kuyovalwa." While the results ended up in sale bins, it hinted at a future-forward dance music route Fassie could have taken: big beats, taut basslines, her voice smeared across the mix. “Zimb' izindaba" are the singer's opening words: “We're not leaving this party. We'll be here until daybreak."

9. “No! No! Señor" (1986)

Taken off her last album with The Big Dudes, this has Fassie imploring her man “please don't do that to me" over a deadly bassline, fractured Chic-like guitar licks and synthy atmospherics.

8. “I Straight Lendaba" (1992)

Named for “the way people talk in the townships," according to Fassie—phrases like “I'm telling you straight"—this restrained piece of pop also prefigures kwaito with its snail's pace four-four kicks, bubbly electronics and back-and-forth vocal chants.

7. “Ngeke Unconfirm" (1995)

Fassie does kwaito again. Released around the same time as the ascent of the Kalawa Jazmee label—and her heir apparent, Lebo Mathosa of Boom Shaka, who tragically died two years after Fassie—this Arthur Mafokate-produced song trades in the same kind of Robin S. organ-bass and marimba keys that Kalawa were peddling at the time with acts like Trompies and Alaska—with the added bonus of MaBrrr's voice.

6. “Higher and Higher" (1985)

While the production reeks of the 80s—all proto-drum machines and garish keyboards—“Higher and Higher" shows off Fassie's serious lyrical skills: “Primal scream, she's got the body of sin / Should be a law against such an invention / A little smile to let you see that she knows / And can sense the smell of your intentions."

5. “Black President" (1990)

A straightforward tribute to Nelson Mandela, this track tells his life story and looks forward to a time—four years ahead, in fact—when Mzansi would have its first black president. "Viva, viva, my people," Fassie sings over a joyous bed of uplifting chimes, cooing backing vocals and neatly-programmed percussion.

4. “Memeza" (1997)

Over minimal backing—a single kick and trickling cymbals—Fassie showcased her still-pristine pipes along with a choir. “Memeza" means “shout" or “scream," and on this the singer is screaming against “the ones with no mercy" who have “caught" her.

3. “Too Late For Mama" (1991)

Brenda Fassie - Too late for mama

“Too Late For Mama" tells the story of a mother who is killed while fetching water after being struck by lightning. The tragedy: she's trying to protect the baby on her back by hiding under a tree (the baby presumably dies too). Mournful synths accompany.

2. “Vul'indlela" (1997)

So good our president decided to dance to it during a state visit to Kenya earlier in 2016—on the same day Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was indicted for fraud and the #FeesMustFall protests raged. With its church organ intro and lyrics—“Clear the way / My baby boy is getting married today"—it was always destined to be a wedding day staple in South Africa, but Chicco's synthetic backtrack also mark it out as one of the greatest bubblegum hits. It was voted Song of the Decade at the South African Music Awards on 26 April 2004, a month after Fassie's death.

1. “Weekend Special" (1986)

Brenda and The Big Dudes - Weekend Special (Live at Ellis Park Stadium, 1985)

The song that started it all, “Weekend Special" was originally released in 1984 but only caught on a couple of years later. The ultimate side-chick anthem, it was recorded by Brenda & The Big Dudes (Blondie and Pappa Makhene) and its success catapulted MaBrrr to stardom. The tune is also a Fassie blueprint: a compelling African tale told in inimitable style, accompanied by super-catchy afro-disco grooves. A masterpiece.

Greg has been writing about African music since the kwaito era and has been published in the Mail & Guardian, Elle, DJ Mag, Boiler Room and many more. He also deejays as DJ Dexterity and consults on digital campaigns. He's on Twitter as @dexterity.

Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images

The Ndlovu Youth Choir Wins the Hollywood Music in Media Award

South Africa's favorite choir continues on its winning streak.

The Ndlovu Youth Choir continues to fly the South African flag high. Recently, the choir was awarded the Hollywood Music in Media Award in the category of "Best Independent Music Video" alongside Grammy award-winning South African flautist, Wouter Kellerman, for their Zulu rendition of Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You".

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Watch Ami Faku and Sun-El Musician’s Music Video for ‘Into Ingawe’

Ami Faku and Sun-El Musician share the visuals for their hit single 'Into Ingawe.'

Rising South African singer Ami Faku collaborated with the house music producer Sun-El Musician for "Into Ingawe" which was released in June. The song became an instant hit on radio and the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
'54 Silhouettes' at the British Council of Nigeria's Lagos Theatre Festival. Photo: Drive Adebayo.

'54 Silhouettes' Is the One-Man Play Exploring What Happens When Other People Tell Our Stories

The play is the first from Nigeria to show at the international United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

Playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director Africa Ukoh's award-winning play 54 Silhouettes has made its way to New York City as part of the United Solo Festival, the annual international festival, highlighting solo theatre performances through a "variety of one-person shows."

The one-man play stars the award-winning Nigerian actor Charles Etubiebi as a struggling actor who thinks he's landed his big break when he gets a major role in an upcoming blockbuster, he becomes conflicted, however, when he learns the film is yet another stereotypical "war in Africa" production—the type of film he vowed to never do. "Caught between career ambitions and ideals of his African identity, he must decide whether to do the film or ditch it," reads an official description of the show.

"The play explores African representation in global media and asks questions about creative responsibility, with tensions of cross cultural relations at the center of it all," Ukoh tells OkayAfrica. "It explores the inherent complexities in culturally unique stories being told by people of different cultures and how this intersects with power dynamics, commerce, and artistic ideals."

Keep reading... Show less
Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

Interview: Sarz Has Powered a Generation of Nigerian Music—and He Isn't Stopping Anytime Soon

We talk to the star producer about his role in the rising global popularity of Nigerian music, spanning his production on massive singles from the likes of Wizkid, Skepta, Drake and more.

"I think more than the music, the narrative is more important these days," says Sarz as he sits at the offices of his press agency. "So one great song with an amazing narrative can get you farther than five great songs sometimes."

When Sarz talks about music, his eyes light up. They dart with excitement as he runs through topics like sounds, production, trends, and innovation. These are all words that represent his life's work of impactful music production, which has powered a generation of music in Nigeria, and is currently playing a role in its international future. Sitting at the offices, decked in a white t-shirt, red trousers and Nike kicks, he makes a point that he rarely grants interviews. And when he does, it's in spaces like this, in rooms and studios where his business is conducted, and his work is birthed and refined for public impact.

Born Osabuohien Osaretin, the 30-year-old music producer discovered sounds by accident when his ears would automatically pick apart music and focus on the beat. Interestingly, he discovered that he could remember every beat in detail. It was the entry point to a career that took off in 2010 when he scored his first hit on Jahbless' "Joor Oh" remix—during the formative stages of the current Nigerian pop success—and has provided sounds that have shaped the culture and given it its biggest moments.

With afrobeats' global ambitions taking off, Sarz's production is playing crucial roles in celebrated cross-cultural projects. He's helmed Drake's "One Dance," unlocked the chemistry between Wizkid and Skepta on "Energy (Stay Far Away)," and added composition on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift album.

"I'm inspired by the thoughts of how far I can take music. Just thinking about where this music can take me to," Sarz says, taking swigs from a water bottle. The producer has also worked with the biggest stars in afrobeats, and a look through his catalogue has hits every year since 2007.

He talks passionately about his work, the source of inspiration, where good music originates from, and how he identifies where to direct his energies. He runs an academy that has been a vehicle for delivering new producers to the culture. Sarz converses with range, a brimming energy, and a humility that is tied to purpose and achievements. He never shies away from topics that examine his revered place in this ecosystem, admitting without bragging that he is no one's mate. Even his 2019 SINYM EP is affirmation that "Sarz Is Not Your Mate." He has seen a lot and has a lot to say.

Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox