Chicco Twala: Brenda Fassie is mine

Johannesburg - Sello “Chicco” Twala is putting his foot down, vowing that a planned biopic about Brenda Fassie will not go ahead without his blessing.

The songwriter and producer claims he has all the rights to her music, which he produced and wrote, and is taking legal action to stop the release of any film made about her life.

“Besides my company having the rights, I have never been consulted by anyone. I feel disrespected and undermined, especially being the one who has written and produced almost 75% of the late singer’s songs,” a fuming Twala told City Press on Friday.

“Without the music I wrote and produced for Brenda, there will be no movie. This movie is not going to happen.”

This week, UK-based production company Showbizbee, in partnership with local artist management company Legaci Nova Entertainment, announced that a movie based on the life of the late queen of African pop was in the works and would hit screens later this year. The movie is set to be shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

MaBrrr died at the age of 39 in Sunninghill Hospital on 9 May 2004 after overdosing on cocaine.

Twala said he instructed his publisher not to grant the movie’s production partners – Fassie’s son Bongani Fassie, Legaci Nova Entertainment or Showbizbee – permission to use any of the songs he wrote and produced for Fassie.

City Press has seen a letter that Twala’s attorneys sent to Legaci Nova, which says an agreement was entered into between Twala, Fassie Records and Fassie’s estate.

“In terms of the said agreements, Twala was granted commercial exploitation rights on the feature film of Brenda Fassie. Twala respectively holds 90% of Fassie records and [has an] 82% shareholding in Estate Late Brenda Fassie, with Bongani Fassie and Estate Late Brenda Fassie holding 10% and 18%, respectively,” reads the letter.

Twala said the estate’s executor, Thokozani Mthembu, gave his company the rights for a Fassie film.

However, Mthembu told City Press that, based on the records in his possession, Twala’s estimate of having written and produced “almost 75%” of Fassie’s songs was “incorrect and exaggerated”.

He confirmed that an agreement was signed in May 2012 with Dzinge Productions, Fassie’s estate and Leakgona Multimedia, in terms of which the Brenda Fassie feature film rights were granted to those two companies.

“Nothing ever came of that agreement. I believe the agreement was subsequently terminated, although I have not been able to locate the termination letter. The estate of the late Brenda Fassie has been finalised and the rights transferred to Bongani Fassie, who will decide the granting of any rights to the Fassie feature film,” Mthembu said.

Vaughn Eaton of Legaci Nova Entertainment said Estate Late Brenda Fassie signed an exclusive agreement with Showbizbee for the recording and production of the Fassie biopic.

He did not want to comment further on Twala’s claims because it was a legal matter.

Showbizbee said in an email that the company owns full and exclusive rights to film Fassie’s story.

“We are not aware of any legal proceedings. We obtained the rights through negotiations with the Estate Late Brenda Fassie and Legaci Nova,” Showbizbee said.

Film insiders said Showbizbee seemed to have little knowledge about producing films. The company was registered two years ago. Apparently their budget was less than R5 million, which they said was not nearly enough.

Showbizbee said this was true to a certain extent. “We have not allocated a budget as yet. Once this has been announced we will submit it to IMDb [Internet Movie Database]. But if you are insinuating that we don’t have the means for a budget, this is completely false information.”

They said the company was formed two years ago as a consortium of industry professionals.

“But our team has worked on many box office films and British TV series for a variety of national broadcasters.”

Meanwhile, Showbizbee is continuing with pre-production, with or without Twala’s blessing. An open casting call has been sent out in search of fresh-faced local talent to portray the vivacious singer.

On Friday, Showbizbee announced that so far they had received 1 200 applications from hopefuls wanting to audition for the role of Fassie.

Many suggested that actress Brenda Ngxoli would be a perfect fit to play Fassie. The entire cast, Showbizbee insisted, would be South African.

Bongani Fassie didn’t want to comment to City Press, but said in a statement: “My mother Brenda has been surrounded by controversy in her life and even after her death.

“I’m particularly eager to participate in the production as co-executive producer so that the real story of my mum comes alive to the people of South Africa and the world.”

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