Busi's last song

By Drum Digital
21 September 2010

SHE sits on the slopes of Table Mountain: a singer, a guardian angel, a prophetess gazing down on the windswept field below, where a young girl grapples with her demons.

The prophetess is called Andiswa – and she may be the only hope for Sia, the girl fighting against her addiction to heroin.It’s a scene from the local movie Long Street, which hits the SA movie circuit soon, and the late queen of modern Zulu music, Busi Mhlongi, plays Andiswa. It’s a role she undertook only 18 months before her death, when the breast cancer that claimed her life was well advanced.

Even so, she managed to deliver a deeply moving performance and charm everyone on set. She plays a singer/prophetess whose powerful presence helps heal the relationship between Sia and her mother.

The story is based on the real-life battle that director Revel Fox’s own daughter, Sannie, had with heroin. She and her mother, Roberta Fox, play themselves in the movie.

“We shot for five weeks and Busi came for about a week,” Revel recalls. “She was on top of it all. Charming. Beautiful. Funny. People flocked around her wherever she was. She put everyone at ease.

“I gave her the chance to rest and come back when she felt strong enough, but this was hardly ever necessary because she enjoyed herself and managed well. She made people laugh. I asked her to give us whatever she felt she could, and that’s what she did.”

She was like a tornado, he adds, but at the same time she was extremely sensitive. “There were moments when she broke down and cried while we were filming but my responsibility towards her made me keep these moments private.”

Busi could be intensely weepy, Roberta agrees. “There were never any specific problems with her health on set but she was sad and aware of her own fragility, and the long road to any eventual recovery. She was talking of at least five years before being considered to be in remission. I remember one day when she totally opened her heart. Rivers of grief just came pouring out.”

Some days were more painful than others. “But even on those days she was still laughing and poking fun at all of us,” Sannie says. “I had great chats with her about music and singing. There was a lot of waiting between scenes and we laughed most of the time. On set she made me laugh constantly. She was a strong woman.”

REVEL made a documentary about Busi about 10 years ago called The Voice of The Spirit, and knew how inspirational and wise she was, having struggled with and beaten her own demons.

“Busi had an understanding of addiction and depression,” he says. “All her life she’d been in the music industry, where drugs are common. At one stage she’d reached a point where she was harming herself through drug use and she went public about it and tried to deal with the problem.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 30 September 2010.

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