The night before the kick-off of greatest sporting event the on African soil, the FIFA World Cup, American songstress Alicia Keys along with the current SA "it" group BLK JKS performed Ma-Brrr's hit "Too Late for Mama" to a packed Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg.
This Brenda favourite is a haunting song that tells of a young black mother's demise under apartheid. The performance to a crowd of 30,000, not to mention the millions worldwide, was affirmation of the staying-power of Ma-Brrr's music. On the most public night for Africa in recent times, Alicia Keys and the BLK JKS chose to bring Ma-brrr on stage with them.
Carrying on her legacy is Brenda's son Bongani. Now in his early twenties he has followed his mother's musical path as a music producer and musician in his own right. Until not long ago he was a member of Jozi, a hip-hop group known for mashing up American crunk and traditional music. In interviews he has expressed an interest in remixing some of his mother's songs for a new generation of music fans. But with him the reasons are also personal: "When I hear her songs, you don't know what it does to me", he revealed an interview a couple years after his mothers death.
Her spirit also resides in young musicians who themselves are still learning to navigate their way as artists in the industry. Singer Simphiwe Dana is a completely different sort of music animal compared to Fassie. At 30 she is being hailed as the new Miriam Makeba. Her music is a mix of traditional Xhosa, jazz and soul music, and she’s never in the papers for bad behaviour. But as an African artist she is aware of the role Fassie played in laying the foundation for her and many others. "I don't think record companies and promoters took female artist for granted after Brenda. Dealing with Brenda forced them to learn how to treat an artist."
For Dana, Brenda matters for reasons that other African musical icons matter. "Brenda Fassie will always matter; we should never forget the fearlessness of Brenda, the spirituality of Busi Mhlongo and the grace of Miriam Makeba".
With the music and the enormous legacy, Chang says Brenda remains relevant because she represents an era in time. "Great artists are a product of their time and space, they are a marker of social history", he says. This makes sense as Brenda emerged in the 1980s at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. Her battle with personal demons and her candid exploration of her identity and sexuality in the early 1990s mirrored the shaky beginnings of a country that is today still trying to define itself as democracy.
For Madondo the reasons she still matters brings us back to where we started, those headlines: "Would she be written about so often, almost every week, six years after her death if she didn't?"