Fans mourn iconic Phiri

Un­touched by fame, he re­mained hum­ble

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MPILETSO MOTUMI

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

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