Hamba Kahle, Ma Brrr

By Travis Lyle a.k.a DJ Hedmekanik
November 3 1964 - May 9 2004

I only ever saw her once. OK, if you count the time at the Metro Awards, twice, but at that appearance she wasn’t performing. No, that’s not entirely correct – she was performing, alright. Might not have been on a stage (although anyplace she happened to be was a stage for Brenda), but she still performed for her audience.
There must have been ten thousand people on the other side of that green metal fence that night, and every single one of them were there to catch a glimpse of the legend in the flesh. Never mind that hundreds of other minor stars were there, milling about in the rarefied atmosphere of the invited guests’ enclosure of the Durban ICC. Never mind the scowling kwaito rappers, the sullen hip-hop swaggerers, the snotty wannabe-diva’s in tottering heels or the drunken radio DJ’s. They tried to bask in some of the glory, going up to the fence and shaking hands, high fives, all that. But after surging forward in anticipation, the crowd would again fall back. You could tell they were disappointed - these pretenders were merely bit parts in the nondescript background noise of the galaxy that night. Just as there’s only one sun in the heavens above, so there was only one Brenda Fassie.
It started as a murmur, some polite jostling for position, and then there she was, bursting through the crowd of larneys with her posse in tow. Ignoring the applause of the guests, she went to her fans and walked triumphantly, her head held high, along that green fence. The crowd went wild. They screamed, they cried, they tore at their clothes, they pulled their hair. Wild. Beatles at Shea Stadium wild. They grabbed ahold of the fence and shook it; they ripped the carefully landscaped saplings out of the ground and waved them. Wild. She took it all in her stride, did a victory lap, thanked her fans and then promptly turned her attention to the gathered throng of guests. With hand on hip, chin out and a cheeky smile on her face, she surveyed the crowd. And with one flick of her head, dismissed the lot. Her posse gathered round, and they were off.

The other time? Ah, well, that was an entirely different story. This time she was performing on a stage at Oppikoppi’s attempted urban relocation in…was it 2003? The Pretoria Sports Grounds, or some such. It was an odd choice for an event renowned for its rural shenanigans to be held in sports halls, and as a result it wasn’t particularly well attended. Which can be something of a blessing, in terms of crowds and space. In any case, she took to the stage with a half-empty hall. By the end of the third song, the place was heaving.
Funny thing is, before I saw her that evening in Pretoria I wasn’t sure I knew much of her music. Sure, I knew who she was. Hell, anyone south of Cairo knew who she was. So I suppose that in a sense I was there that night more to put some meat on the bones of the outline I had of her. I didn’t expect to be singing along or dancing like a man possessed, but that’s exactly what I did – I knew all her tunes; they’d been playing in the background on transistor radios in lazy white suburban afternoons, my whole life. They were forever mentally bonded to the dry chemical perfumes and metallic clatter of ironing that I, and countless other kids, came home to after school.
She was warm and personal when sitting at the edge of the stage, talking about her hardships and triumphs. She was defiant in the face of rumours that she’d gone missing, she was destitute, she was addicted to crack…headlines that were loudly trumpeted in the tabloids. To all her naysayers she gave the finger, stating proudly that she was here to stay, because she wasn’t done yet. Then she was up and doing star jumps as she howled into the mic. She even got a little maternal on our asses, bringing her son Bongani out. They beatboxed together; she was pretty good, Bongani was really good. 'Nomakanjani' got a fresh rework, turning into a heavy house beat remix which went on for a rocking six or seven minutes. The crowd went, predictably, wild. She encore’d with ‘Too Late For Mama’ and then, she was gone.

And then, on May 9, 2004, she really was gone.

This article also published on Levi's Music Mag.

(and you can read more on Brenda on The World's Greatest Music blog)

2 comments so far.

  1. The World's Greatest Music May 13, 2008 at 12:12 PM
    Excellent piece

    Wish I had seen her in the flesh

    for your readers, my piece about her is at http://worldsgreatestmusic.blogspot.com/2008/02/i-was-just-reading-interview-with-my.html
  2. hedmekanik May 13, 2008 at 12:29 PM
    Hey - thanks.
    Will post a link to yours.


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