One of the rarest album in the KCRW library (and mine as well) is a 1984 12″ single by a South African group called Joy, lead by Brenda Fassie, late niece of Nelson Mandela. It was issued by Island Publishing but never became available commercially. Perhaps because it was a cover of a big pop song by Vangelis and Jon Anderson? I don’t really know. I went to Rhino Records and bought every copy they had. The 12″ single version (pictured above) didn’t even have cover info, just a black and gold camouflage jacket.
The producer, Stewart Levine, had gone to South Africa in the early 1980s in support of the local music scene during a very difficult time for musicians. He went there on behalf of two great South African artists then forced into exile, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela. Levine doesn’t even have a copy of the rare single. The B-side of the 12″ is Miriam Makeba’s famous song “Pata Pata”.
It started, like many things, with Roger Steffens. He brought in a 12″ or maybe a 7″ copy of it. He had been working for Chris Blackwell at Island, as well as, at Warner Brothers, home of Stewart Levine, who produced the single. Roger prompted me as the new music director of KCRW to start an African music show, Morning Goes Makossa, in 1980. Two years later, we inaugurated the popular African Beat program, which lasted until 1982. KCRW was the only radio station broadcasting African music on a daily basis, and we were in touch with the African pulse back then on most of our shows.
Brenda Fassie became famous while her famous uncle was in prison on Robben Island. She died of an overdose in 2004 at the age of 39. By the time of her death, she had become one of South Africa’s most popular artists.
Here, then, is that beautiful but obscure song. Enjoy this classic affirmation of life, done South African style. Also a musical celebration of her famous uncle. It’s not even on YouTube!