Farewell to a great Ray of sun­shine

Phiri hailed at memo­rial for keep­ing our hopes alive with his mu­sic

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MPILETSO MO­TUMI @mane_mpi

MU­SI­CIANS never die. The sto­ries they tell chart a path for us and al­low us to keep their le­ga­cies alive.

These were the words of singer Sibongile Khu­malo yes­ter­day at the memo­rial ser­vice of jazz, fu­sion and mbaqanga mu­si­cian Ray Phiri, who passed away last Wednes­day.

Khu­malo, who sits on the board of the South­ern African Mu­sic Rights Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Samro), said the memo­rial was about hon­our­ing, cel­e­brat­ing and salut­ing a man who rep­re­sented the coun­try for what it was through his mu­sic.

“When peo­ple like Johnny Mekoa and Ray Phiri leave us, we are in­clined to lose hope. We know they rep­re­sent two sides of a many-sided con­tainer. Their work was that of cre­ators, mes­sen­gers and sto­ry­tellers. They were our mem­ory keep­ers. We ac­knowl­edge them and thank them for what they did.”

She en­cour­aged South Africans not to lose hope as this was a great na­tion.

“The work of Ray Phiri, like the gen­er­a­tion of cre­ators he emerged with, gives us a sense of fo­cus and com­mit­ment. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity as we re­mem­ber all those who have passed on is to keep their le­ga­cies go­ing. Your legacy is the peo­ple you have touched in your life.”

Khu­malo said Phiri had been a mem­ber of Samro for 41 years, which meant peo­ple would still be able to hear his mu­sic, and the roy­al­ties would flow to his chil­dren.

“He has as­sumed a dif­fer­ent form, shape­less, but for­ever present. He is now in the form of spirit. That is what we need now to re­mem­ber who we are.

“We are a great na­tion and must con­tinue to stay a great na­tion,” she said.

Na­tive Rhythms founder Sipho Sit­hole de­scribed Phiri as a brave man.

“He was brave in his mu­sic and sang tri­umphantly (dur­ing apartheid), say­ing we are go­ing to get there. The songs asked se­ri­ous ques­tions.”

He said for peo­ple it was al­ways eas­ier to lis­ten to the beat than to hear the mes­sage of the songs.

Sit­hole last saw Phiri in Re­union Is­land dur­ing the Sak­ifo Musik fes­ti­val last month.

Last week, he re­ceived a mes­sage from Khu­malo en­quir­ing about me­dia re­ports about Phiri’s ill­ness and sto­ries of him not hav­ing any money.

“I was both­ered by the fact that Ray would be writ­ten about as some­one who would die as a pau­per be­cause it is easy for the me­dia to run with that nar­ra­tive,” he said.

He said Phiri was not a pau­per and that he had money – some of which he wanted to put in a trust fund for his chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

“We are not here to ful­fil a for­mal­ity but learn about what Phiri did. I just want to ap­peal to mu­si­cians and song­writ­ers to be the lens which we peep through to see what’s hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety.

“Don’t be afraid to rat­tle power, to de­fine own do­mains of free­dom. Don’t let the power of com­mer­cial in­ter­est de­ter­mine the nar­ra­tive. Let the mu­sic play. If we do that Ray Phiri will do his pup­pet dance all the way to heaven.”

Phiri’s memo­rial ser­vice was held at Groove Live (for­merly The Bassline) in New­town, Joburg.

It was at­tended by in­dus­try le­gend Jonas Gwangwa, 1980s singer Mercy Pakela, Na­tional Arts Coun­cil’s Jerry Mabuza and Eu­gene Mthethwa, among others.

An of­fi­cial memo­rial ser­vice will be held to­day at the Mbombela Sta­dium in Nel­spruit, Mpumalanga.

KEEP­ING LEGACY ALIVE: Sibongile Khu­malo speaks at jazz great Ray Phiri’s memo­rial ser­vice at Groove Live in New­town, Joburg. PIC­TURES: MATTHEWS BALOYI

SOUND MEM­O­RIES: Khu­malo with Mercy Pakela at the memo­rial.

SALUTED: Apos­tle Lunga KaMangcu at Phiri’s memo­rial ser­vice.

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