MOYAHABO MABEBA and MOKGADI RABOSHAKGA
AS THE sun was just about to nose itself from the distant horizon, the heart-rending news befell the South Africa jazz firmament with the passing of one of the greatest jazz maestro of his generation.
The passing of legendary musician Raymond Chikapa “Ray” Phiri left jazz devotees heartbroken.
Phiri, who died in the wee hours of Wednesday at a Nelspruit hospital in Mpumalanga after battling a lung cancer, was the front man in the celebrated Stimela band which rode the crest of the airwaves for years.
He grew up with a passion for music and started playing the guitar at a very tender age, inspired by his late father Kanyama Phiri.
The great Phiri, who died at the age of 70, was scheduled to perform at Rocking the Daisies Music and Lifestyle Festival later this year.
The event is South Africa’s biggest and hottest outdoor gathering, which takes place over four days from 5 to 8 October every year, officially kicking off the summer season.
Phiri was scheduled feature prominently among the best local and international entertainment across music, comedy, art, film; hundreds of top local acts and some of the world’s most inspiring artists performing on multiple stages.
The legendary musician became the founding member of the Cannibals in the 1970s and when the Cannibals disbanded he founded Stimela, with whom he conceived gold and platinum-selling albums like Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Look, Listen and Decide, Whispers In The Deep-the list is just endless.
Throughout his illustrious musical career, Phiri played an instrumental role in the fight against the much-maligned apartheid regime which subsequently banned his music.
Resilient as he was always, in the song Singajindi Majita, Phiri mobilised dejected black people, in particular, to remain resolute to remain in the struggle, a message that nestled comfortably with the political conditions of the time.
It was befitting that April 27, 2011, President Jacob Zuma conferred Phiri with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his sterling contribution to the South African music industry and the successful use of the arts as an instrument of social transformation.
In deed Phiri’s music brought an overwhelming aura of euphoria among the oppressed masses who took pleasure from his music at festivals, family gatherings, watering holes and street bashes.
For the multitudes who worshiped at the altar of the Stimela conviction, Phiri’s voice was poetry in motion, vintage jazz amid swigs of the golden waters of wisdom which the generous ancestors have blessed us with.
It is for this reason that even beyond his grave, his followers will still share fond memories as they remember the legend who used to send them into unconfined delirium.
Phiri was part of the eight month-long Graceland Tour, a global trek headed by American singer Paul Simon.
The aim of the tour was to mobilise states in support of the struggle for liberation, for better living standards in oppressed African states and the promotion of cross-cultural dialogue.
Phiri later earned a Grammy Award for his participation on the tour. While successful, the tour was fraught with controversy, but it helped the South Africans to make names for themselves abroad.
Phiri leaves a lasting legacy having founded the Ray Phiri Artists Institute, which focuses on unearthing and promoting the best music talent that Mpumalanga can produce. The institute is based at Thembeka High School in Ka Nyamazane, a few kilometres from Mbombela.
Fellow legendary Jazz artist Sipho Hotsticks Mabuza who entered into music industry around the same time as Phiri, more than five decades ago tweeted that the loss of his friend has left him at loss for words.
“I have no words on the loss of my dear friend Ray Phiri. I am too devastated and I am at loss of words” he said
Jazz Musician and Selaelo Selota says he met the music giant 30 years ago in his student life and little did he know that he would feature on Stimela’s album on day.
Selota said: “It’s very sad. I met bra Ray 30 years ago when as a group of students, we were taken to down town studios where Stimela was recording an album. We did not know where we were going. We were just students before I started playing the guitar.”
Selota says South Africa has lost one of its greatest artist that used his music to make the country a better place
“The country has lost a great artist. When I look into my last work (The Promised Land), if people listen to the song and the sound, it was inspired Bra Ray Phiri. We lost not only someone who was a musician but someone who was a voice, someone who used his music to convey a message” he enthused.