Listening and Reading Queen of African Pop

I am looking for information about Brenda Fassie, the famous singer of South Africa who died in 39. I got her music from our South African friend, the first national black tour guide. We listen to her music together in the trip from Johannesburg to Kruger. You couldn’t imagine the sound of her voice remixed with the bright African sun and ever-extending fields and road.

I couldn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics in “Thola Amadlozi" and “Nakupenda (I Love You)". But that’s the kind of music just make you swing immediately. But I also found the “Shoot Them Before They Grow". Then I found this paper.

“God Rock Africa: Thoughts on Politics in Popular Black Performance in South Africa", by David B. Coplan, University of the Witwatersrand. Published on African Studies, Volume 64, Number 1/July 2005.

There is no better illustration of the inappropriate inscriptions of generic labelling than the term applied to the popular black dance music style that preceded kwaito in the 1980s: “bubblegum”. In a stereotypical sense bubblegum begins and ends with the recent tragically ended career of Brenda Fassie, whose first big hit recording with the Big Dudes in 1983, Weekend Special was political only in the sexual sense of protesting the subordinate romantic status of the “weekends-only” girlfriend of the philandering African man. Perhaps it was this perceived shallowness in the midst of the gathering political storm that led some radio disk jockey to dismiss the new style of township pop as “bubblegum”: a childish tease in which the initial burst of sweetness quickly vanishes on the tongue. And yet today over two decades later there is hardly a local kwaito or pop music diva who does not cite Fassie’s inspiration.

This is due not only to her unique and powerful voice, or even her endlessly selfregenerating capacity for stylistic referencing and innovation, but also, wondrously, her changing politics. By the late ’80s, Brenda demonstrated that she had far more than adultery on her mind when, under the powerful influence of her producer/song writer soulmate Sello “Chicco” Twala, she issued the mouldbreaking political album Too Late for Mama (1988). On it were songs like Black President, an unabashed praise poem to the then still-jailed Nelson Mandela, looking prophetically toward the day when he would indeed be the country’s first black president. The same album also contained Shoot Them Before They Grow, an imaginary debate between a liberal and a racist white on the future of young blacks, with its fierce, bitter indictment of police violence against youthful protestors.

The good white man says, give them good education.
The bad white man says, shoot them before they grow . . .

Brenda’s blend of explicit political and sexual explosiveness was never the contradiction to herself or her fans that the term “bubblegum” might suggest. In fact her defiantly self-destructive lifestyle and in-your-face rebellious female articulateness was as much part of her politics as her recordings and her frenetically sensual stage performances. But the bad girl of pop wanted more than anything to be loved, wickedly mimicking Winnie Mandela’s questionable title “Mother of the Nation” with her own self-description “Girlfriend of the Nation”. Despite all the self-promoting journalistic moralism, South Africans (bad girls and boys at 12 African Studies 64: 1, July 2005 heart) forgave their wayward “MaBrrr” (as she was called). In May 2004, Mandela, Mbeki, ministers of government, the aristocracy of black show business, and hundreds of other notables attended her hospital deathbed, and we all deeply mourned her passing.

Brenda is not alone. There are other figures like Steve Biko whom I know via Stings and Peter Gabriel. Let me share with you my feeling of these great music that inspires me so much.

* BBC NEWS: Brenda Fassie, A Very Human Hero
* Time: The Madonna Of The Townships

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