South Africa: Minister Mthethwa Pays Tribute to Ray Phiri

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthwthwa has paid tribute to the legendary jazz musician, Raymond Phiri, who passed away this morning.

“It is with sorrow and shock that we learnt of the passing of the great musician and inimitable artist, Ray Phiri. We shall always remember hit songs like ‘People don’t talk let’s talk’, ‘Whispers in the Deep’ and ‘Zwakala’,” said Minister Mthethwa.

He said Ray Phiri and his contemporaries urged music lovers in the darkest days and fired the last salvos at apartheid.

“This is what gave this music an edge, which it maintains to this day, as it still holds sways among many music-lovers. They were bright, defiant, quick-thinking, street-wise and urbane. Such was the music of Ray Phiri.”

Raymond Chikapa Enock Phiri, who was born in Mpumalanga in 1947, started his music career in the late 1960s as a guitarist.

His music had its roots in mbaqanga and African jazz. He founded a group called the Cannibals and thereafter Stimela. In Stimela, Phiri rose to great heights, composing and conceptualizing new work and the band achieved platinum-selling albums. He worked with Stimela on Paul Simon’s Graceland album and tours, which he said at the time “is giving every South African musician hope… a chance to be heard by the rest of the world”.

“Their music was urban, racy, and African pop at its best and it spoke to the times they lived in. Their songs appealed to new generations of South Africans who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s and who stood their ground and strove for freedom in the last decade of apartheid rule,” said Minister Mthethwa.

The Department of Arts and Culture said Ray Phiri was also an arts activist in Mpumalanga and for many years he sat on the board of the National Arts Council of South Africa where, from its outset, Phiri pushed an agenda of transformation of the arts.

He collaborated with many other musicians and helped to advance their music. He founded the Ray Phiri Artists Institute to develop talent from Mpumalanga.

Ray Phiri received the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver from President JG Zuma for his contribution to South African music and his life’s contribution to the transformation of the arts.

“He dearly loved his family and was a doting father. We thank his family for allowing him to spend the best part of his life on the musical stage and sharing his songs with us.

“He also had a real love for his country and especially for the province of his birth which he spoke about with passion and a twinkle in his eye,” said Minister Mthethwa.

Ray Phiri performed recently at the Bassline Africa Day Concert in Nasrec on May 27 and Zakifo Music Festival in Durban the next day. Both festivals were supported by the Department of Arts and Culture as part of Africa Months activities.

He also featured in the Zakifo Music Festival in the Reunion Island on 3 June, an event that brings together international musicians with all-embracing music genre ranging from pop, reggae and world music.

In so doing, he actively supported the idea of a Pan-African platform that brings together the finest music festivals within the Southern Africa region through touring circuits of artists mainly from the African continent.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to the Phiri family, to all who knew this musical maestro and his many fans,” said the Minister.

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