Fans mourn iconic Phiri
Untouched by fame, he remained humble
WHEN the news of Ray Phiri’s death started trickling in on social media, few people believed it, with some even dismissing it as fake news.
Fans were shocked when his lung cancer diagnosis became public. He was a man with so much charisma and energy, it was hard to think of him having a terminal illness.
Last year, Phiri and fellow muso Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse went on a personal marketing campaign for their explosive tribute jazz evening concert at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg.
Phiri first popped around at The Star building and said he had been driving all day going to various media houses, and The Star was his last stop before he headed home to Mbombela.
“So far away, won’t you be tired?” I asked, to which he responded: “It’s all in a day’s work.”
He was a humble man who treated people with respect.
At the announcement for the launch of the Igoda music circuit where Phiri performed at all five festivals during Africa Month in May, the slim 70-year-old said it was time southern Africa was discovered through performance.
Phiri attended all the festivals as part of Africa Month’s celebrations on Reunion Island, in Mozambique, Swaziland and here at home over three weeks.
He was a champion for all things African. Whenever the opportunity arose to speak, Phiri would stress the importance of Africans rising to the challenge to honour the continent .
Phiri said at the time that he saw himself as a musician who transcended generations. “Maybe it’s our honesty that makes us responsible about what we say, because you can take our word to the bank – a man’s word is his virtue.”
When Jazzman Mahlakgane, founder of the Ekurhuleni Comes Alive Jazz evenings, decided to honour music legends, Phiri and Mabuse were his first choice. Phiri was his idol as a teenager.
Mahlakgane said: “Ray became my friend when I SONS OF THE SOIL: Ray Phiri and Vusi Mahlasela perform after winning the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Industry Awards in 2012. Picture: Cathy Pinnock started the Birchwood evenings. They were so excited. Of all the fond memories I have, the two big legends, who could have had big egos, were excited to do those interviews together and promote their show.
“Their performance in December was packed and it ran into the early hours.
“They wanted to take pictures with their fans before and after the show. I will forever respect them for that.”
Mahlakgane said that if there was one thing the younger artists of today could learn from Phiri, it was to remain humble.
“It’s something that I wish young artists would learn from them, because that speaks volumes.
“Phiri’s death sends a strong message to musicians to take a leaf out of his book. He was popular internationally, but could still walk into a shack and have a drink with people before going on stage to perform.”
Though he felt sad, Mahlakgane said he was proud that he had supported Phiri and that he was always there for him.
“Sometimes when you lose people and you were there for them, you feel good.
“We are sad about his loss, but we celebrated him.”
The manager and founder of the Black Major stable, Sevi Spanoudi, described Phiri, who joined them early this year, as hard-working, uncompromising and tireless.
“He loved being surrounded by young people, his energy was vibrant. Everyone at Black Major loved working with Ray, not only because of the artist he was and the legacy, but because of the person he was.
“He was funny, kind, generous and full of stories about his childhood, the farm, fame, touring the world, his children. He was a brilliant storyteller.”
Condolences poured in from artists old and young, local and international.
We loved him… He was a brilliant storyteller
LEGENDARY PAIR: Ray Phiri, left, with Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse at The Star building in central Joburg. They put on shows to packed audiences, delighting their fans.
DANCE MOVES: Ray Phiri on stage. PICTURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI