Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brenda Fassie: She Lived!

Brenda Fassie was untouchable. She was like a Phoenix – she’d be consumed by her own flames, but rise from her ashes. I grew up reading everything written about her, watching and listening to all interviews. 

She was a subject in most of my speeches throughout primary and high school. I loved her energy – and mostly envied her ability to get away with saying the craziest things.

When news reports announced her coma – I took it lightly – it was Brenda Fassie, she’d rise from this. Her demonic relationship with drugs didn't bother me. I always believed she’d kick the habit and live to tell the world how bad drugs were. 

For me that coma in April/May 2004 would be her final wake up call. But my Brenda Fassie didn't wake up. She didn't rise to tell us about her near death experience. My heart was broken.

A collection of essays on an epic life. 

Bongani Madondo’s I’m Not Your Weekend Special brought to surface all the emotions, good and bad, I had about this legendary persona. I believe that this collection of essays is such an intimate look into her life – different views from people who had a piece of Brenda. 

These are personal essays from those that were blessed to have had a close connection with Brenda Fassie.

Mpho Lebona’s story stuck out the most for me. She tells us about Brenda Fassie the teenager – the big sister her parents brought home for her. Mpho is Koloi and Ethel Lebona’s daughter – Brenda Fassie stayed with the family in her early years in Johannesburg. 

Mpho unpacks her excitement at having this people-magnet big sister and how she loved music.

“She loved to sing. She sang to just about anything and everything that had a melody or music to it” – recalls Mpho.

Koloi and Ethel took Brenda Fassie in 1978. They promised her mother they’d nurture her and take care of her education. But the teenage Brenda Fassie was wild at heart – hard to raise and discipline. She bunked school, was caught smoking dagga and drinking alcohol.

The ungovernable Brenda Fassie eventually dropped out of school at Form Two (Just before Junior Certificate) – I think this could be Grade 8. Mpho ends her story with this quote from her mom, “Baby, it hurts. It still hurts to talk about Brenda”.

Brenda Fassie’s life seemed to just be one bad decision after another of an extremely talented singer. Not only was she a great singer, she was a magical performer and she loved people. Each story in the book had me wondering if her unconditional love for people was her trying to receive the same love at the level she gave it.

She randomly gave money to street kids, shared her home with everyone and allowed just about everybody in her personal space. Brenda Fassie’s life was not a selfish one – she was never alone. In all her crazy – there were always people around her. Did any of these people have good intentions for her? And if they did – did she listen? Would Brenda Fassie have had the same impact on me and many that loved her if she was a good girl?

I loved Brenda Fassie mostly for her imperfections. Through her crazy – I feel I can forgive myself for not making the perfect mark.

A wild spirit. 
Bongani Madondo did an impressive job in putting this together and reminding us of the spirit that was Brenda Fassie. We need more books about our legends – people that have made a mark – from the arts to politics. More books can be written about Brenda Fassie – her life was so epic I believe any of the authors featured in this book can unpack their experience even further.

But where is Bongani Fassie in this collection of essays? I would have loved to read Bongani Fassie’s story about his mother – a woman he shared with so many. Did Madondo try to reach out? Questions not answered in the book.

Brenda Fassie – a life lived. Her spirit lives on. May this book be the first of many.  

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