The legend, Ray ‘Chikapa’ Phiri leaves a great legacy behind

The good old times. Ray Phiri, Barney Rachabane and Hugh Masekela

Raymond “Chikapa” Phiri was born in 1947 in Nelspruit in what was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal. 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. He learned to play a variety of instruments, including the piano and drums.

He became a founding member of the 1970s soul-music group, the Cannibals. When the Cannibals disbanded, he founded Stimela (Steam Train), with whom he produced gold- and platinum-winning albums like Fire, passion and ecstasy and Look, listen and decide as well as the controversial People don’t talk so let’s talk.

It came as no surprise when one of their most memorable tracks, “Whispers in the deep” or Phinda Mzala as it was affectionately known, was banned by the former South African Broadcasting Corporation. Contrary to the desired effect, the ban in fact contributed to the group’s popularity.

In “Singajindi Majita”, he urged;  “Don’t dare give up,” a message that fit in comfortably with the political conditions of the time. The impact was more mobilisation of a people hungry for freedom, songs such as these providing courage and hope for the future. It was the silent voices of the oppressed that Phiri expressed in his contribution to the attainment of a democratic South Africa.

A typical rehearsal for Ray Phiri in a recording studio.

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 in the tour. While successful, the tour was fraught with controversy, but it helped these South Africans make a name for themselves abroad. Ray Phiri and Stimela joined other top South African artists such as Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Yvonne Chaka Chaka for a tour to France, dubbed Frenchement Zoulou.

He will be remembered as the founder of 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 KaNyamazane. On April 27, 2011 the 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.

 

 

 

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