Farewell to a great Ray of sunshine
Phiri hailed at memorial for keeping our hopes alive with his music
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.