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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 and contemplate the best of Brenda Fassie.

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 youtu.be


“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) www.youtube.com

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.

Interview

Kofi Jamar Switches Lanes In 'Appetite for Destruction'

The Ghanaian rapper and "Ekorso" hitmaker presents a different sound in his latest EP.

The drill scene in Ghana has been making waves across the continent for some time now. If you're hip to what a crop of young and hungry artists from the city of Kumasi in Ghana and beyond have been doing over the past year, then you already know about rapper Kofi Jamar.

Towards the end of November last year he dropped one of the biggest drill songs to emerge from Ghana's buzzing drill scene, the popular street anthem "Ekorso." In the December and January that followed, "Ekorso" was the song on everyone's lips, the hip-hop song that took over the season, with even the likes of Wizkid spotted vibing to the tune.

Currently sitting at over 10 million streams across digital streaming platforms, the song topped charts, even breaking records in the process. "Ekorso" maintained the number one spot on Apple Music's Hip-Hop/Rap: Ghana chart for two months uninterrupted, a first in the history of the chart. It also had a good stint at number one of the Ghana Top 100 chart as well, among several other accolades.

Even though he's the creator of what could be the biggest song of Ghana's drill movement till date, Kofi Jamar doesn't plan on replicating his past music or his past moves. He has just issued his second EP, a 6-track project titled Appetite for Destruction, and it would surprise you to know that there isn't a single drill song on it. Although drill played a huge role in his meteoric rise, he wants to be known as way more than just a drill rapper. He wants to be known as a complete and versatile artist, unafraid to engage in any genre — and he even looks forward to creating his own genre of music during the course of his career.

We spoke to Kofi Jamar about his latest EP, and he tells us about working with Teni, why he's gravitating away from drill to a new sound, and more. Check out our conversation below.

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