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My Black President

My Black President

by Sean O'Toole / 15.05.2009

Brenda Fassie – otherwise known as “MaBrrrr”, “Black Madonna”, “i-Brenda”, “My Black President” – died five years ago this month, on May 9. To people of a certain vintage, she was the hurricane who bumped up next to you at four in the morning at Joburg’s legendary 206, an irrepressible somebody who wasn’t afraid to upstage another performer and demand the microphone, as she once did at a Kalahari Surfers (aka Warrick Sony) and Lesego Rampolokeng gig. (The trio improvised a version of her big hit, “Weekend Special”.) But this is the mythological Brenda, a person who, for the most part, is entirely unknown to Nkuli Mlangeni.

“I’ve always been fascinated by her since I was a kid,” says Nkuli, a young trainee curator with Cape 09, an arts festival currently on in Cape Town. “The first time I really got to find out about her was when she released ‘Too Late for Mama’ – that song was a killa. And, then I started researching about her.”

The outcome of this research is “Do You Know Where Brenda Fassie Is?”, a multi-format exhibition at Brenda’s old school in Langa, Cape Town. Drawing on input from art theorist Andrew Lamprecht and wordsmith Bongani Madondo, Nkuli has crafted a show that mixes graffiti, video art, performance and fashion.

“In the beginning I was just fascinated by Brenda the character and it wasn’t until I spoke to [writer] Stacy Hardy that things started to come together. See all I thought about was how cool a Brenda Fassie exhibition would be, but it never crossed my mind that we might have issues with funding because of the things that she used to get up to and that certain people might object because she wasn’t exactly a goodie-goodie. I just thought everyone would be down coz she was MaBrrr.”

In the end though, Nkuli won. Check out www.capeafrica.org for details, or simply take a drive to Langa High in Washington Street, Langa. The good news is all over the walls.

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