Jazz maestro a family man and fountain of knowledge

Singer’s 112-year-old mother still does not know he’s dead

- By Mandla Khoza

Ray Phiri’s friends and family say they were not expecting him to die because they were preparing to build an arts institute.

The legendary founding member of Afro-fusion band Stimela, fondly known as Chikapa, died yesterday at a Mbombela hospital after battling lung cancer.

Sowetan had reported on Monday that he was terminally ill in hospital.

The Mpumalanga government said Phiri would be afforded an official provincial funeral.

Phiri was diagnosed with the disease just two months ago after he started having trouble breathing.

Family spokesman Paul Nkanyane said: “We knew it was coming, but it was still unexpected. It was so sudden.

“They told us he had lung cancer. We thought his mother would die first. We didn’t expect him to die.”

Hours after his death Phiri’s mother had still not been told about his death.

At 112 years old, the family was worried about her health and what impact news about the musician’s death would have on her already frail state.

“Ray was a pillar of the family. He kept everyone together. He had a big family and many children, but he united everyone,” said Nkanyane.

Outside Phiri’s house in Mbombela, his best friend Sheriff Molefe said there were no signs that Phiri was dying as all they talked about was his release from hospital in the next seven to 10 days.

Phiri, 70, was admitted last Tuesday and his untimely death has left his family devastated.

“He was upbeat. His morale was high. What we talked about was opening a Ray Phiri Arts Institute where he wanted to educate and mentor young people of Mpumalanga and the country about music,” said Molefe.

Molefe also rubbished claims that Phiri had no money to pay for his medical fees.

“OK, let’s put this funds issue to rest. We know people on social media write a lot and we cannot control that. The matter of Ray having no money to pay his medical bills is all out.

“When his medical aid got depleted, as a man of many plans, Ray had money to pay.

“Actually, he paid a week in advance so, as we speak, the hospital will have to refund his money.”

Nkanyane choked while talking about the gap Phiri has left in their hearts.

“I mean ... he was my brother, I mean it is impossible to forget him,” said Nkanyane.

Phiri has left behind an eight-month-old child with his wife. “I am holding his eightmonth-old in my hands right now, I’m honestly still shook up by all this,” Nkanyane said.

Phiri’s two sons Pholo and Akhona could not hold back tears as they shared the love he had for his children and cooking.

Akhona said: “Actually I have never seen a strong man like my father. He was a good cook and loved eating healthy. He avoided red meat and prepared meals for us the way he liked. He was a fountain of knowledge, he encouraged us to read and take education seriously. Actually, there are more books than anything else in this house. He was more than a father, he was a friend.”

Pholo, the elder son, said his father taught them to respect and love people. “Our father loved us so much, he taught us to respect other people.”

Phiri grew up on a farm outside Mbombela. He leaves behind his 25-year-old wife, Rabi, with whom he had an eightmonth-old baby. He also leaves behind more than 10 children from his previous relationsh­ips.

Phiri lost two wives – one from illness and another from a car accident.

Ray was a pillar of the family. He kept everyone together Paul Nkanyane


 ?? / PHOTOS / SANDILE NDLOVU ?? Ray Phiri’s sons Pholo and Akhona with a portrait of their father.
/ PHOTOS / SANDILE NDLOVU Ray Phiri’s sons Pholo and Akhona with a portrait of their father.

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