MaBrrr: Our girl in the mirror

2014-05-04 15:00

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A new book of essays on MaBrrr is about to hit the shelves. Panashe Chigumadzi spoke to Bongani Madondo, who edited I’m Not Your Weekend Special

You say you had a teenage crush on MaBrrr after you saw her in concert at the Kudu Cinema as a boy. What was the allure?

A young woman in her late teens, independent, full of township swagger, punk’s f**k-you attitude and could sing the dead out of their graves. She ticked all the teenage-angsty boxes. What was there not to love? It was a star crush more than a love crush. Over the years the whole thing was filtered through different layers: journalist, fan, biographer. All those bring complications. Love of any kind is a complicated project.

Blondie Makhene told Sam Mathe that when Weekend Special dropped in 1983 ‘people were still into American music’. Yet Fassie topped our charts. What was the song’s impact?

South Africa was still reeling from world cultural storms going back to the Bee Gees’ hit songs, Night Fever and Stayin’ Alive, and John Travolta’s films Saturday Night Fever and Grease, a couple of years earlier. Donna Summer and the disco queer Sylvester also ruled the airwaves and township shebeens.

Sure, the local female trio Joy, Margaret Singana and young Blondie and his family band, Spankk, were all kicking real butt already. But Brenda’s arrival changed the game. It said to the young women out there and everyone in the performance business: you too can do it. Also her music and behaviour sent out an uncoded message: there are various ways of being black. Ethno-African blackness is not the only route to blackness.

In Duma ka Ndlovu’s words, Fassie ‘took us to the world of cocaine, lesbians, drug addiction and countless efforts at rehab’. How did her ‘ungovernability’ impact on a country that idolised her?

South Africa is an addictive and addicted country. Also our entire history is a history of strife. We are the original punk rockers. Brenda was the best and worst reflection of who we are. Our girl in the mirror.

Fassie told Charl Blignaut that she ‘luuved’ Madonna. When asked if she was the ‘Black Madonna’ she said yes. She also stated she was ‘the black Brenda’. What do you make of that persistent comparison?

I don’t. I don’t think of it. But since you insist: It’s crap. Brenda was clearly more nuanced than Madonna. Also her life story and what she dealt with as a young black woman in an oppressive country was worse than Madonna could have imagined. Why do people imagine black achievers are carbon copies of some white predecessors?

I’m not a black Hunter S Thompson. I’m me. Not even the Black Me. Just moi! And so was Brenda. An original. MaBrrr’s talents and lifestyle had more parallel traits with two quintessential African rebels?–?young Dolly Rathebe and Dorothy Tiyo. Madonna who?

In a recent Marie Claire essay on Yvonne Chaka Chaka you said Brenda is to Yvonne what Rihanna is to Beyoncé. How so?

I thought it is obvious. All I can say is: there’s a huge problem with Beyoncé’s curated, squeaky-clean image, premised, ironically, on some inflatable doll kind of sexiness bereft of any sense of liberating erotica. It’s a ruse. Yet with Brenda and Rihanna, their fingers are on the auto-self-destruct button.

Fassie often told interviewers she didn’t care what people thought of her. Does that defiance speak to the title of the book?

The title is a play on her biggest and best-known song and album, Weekend Special. In that song, she was lashing out and was desperate for acceptance. It also said, you will deal with me on my terms. That spirit permeates through the book’s content and overall conception and execution. Deal with it on its terms, not what you believe from books, biographies, narratives and so on. As its curator I’m also saying, I’m Not Your Weekend Special.

Chigumadzi is the founder and editor of Vanguard and a columnist for Forbes Africa

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