On Wednesday the 12 July 2017 South Africa woke up to the sad and shocking news that legendary Jazz musician Ray Phiri has passed away. Phiri reportedly succumbed to his long battle with lung cancer in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
This is indeed a great loss not only to Jazz music lovers and enthusiasts but a loss of talent to the people of South Africa as a whole. Ray Phiri’s philosophical approach to music is captured in the quote that “music is spiritual, it provides healing and reflection and it should add value…” he is quoted as saying.
This philosophical and deep rooted understanding of the role of music in enriching the cultural lives of the people found practical expression and was reflected in his music in tunes such as “whispering in the deep” “Zwakala Nganeno” (come closer) and “Where did we go wrong?” to quote but a few.
These tunes actually pull at the heart strings and bring about a feeling of nostalgia for days gone by when the lyrics go “this is my story, speak up your mind and don’t whisper in the deep. Zwakala Nganeno.”
In the light of the current toxic political environment with reports of deep rot in the body politic of the nation, high levels of corruption and the looting of state resources the title “Where did we go wrong?” seems like a premonition of things to come.
The fact that Phiri’s talent as a musician and a self-taught guitarist blossomed and thrived during the difficult and trying times of apartheid rule is once again testimony to the indomitable nature of the human spirit to overcome whatever obstacles that may be put in the path of achieving greatness.
During the difficult days of struggle against apartheid oppression, culture became a terrain and battleground of protest and resistance. Ray Phiri and a host of other prominent musicians used their talent not only to entertain but also to mobilise and create the space for “healing and reflection” but above all galvanise the people into action.
Although Phiri has passed on, he has left the people of South Africa with a cultural treasure trove that has enriched the South African cultural sphere.
His music is once again a living embodiment of the high levels of talent that resides within the people of South Africa.
The Thabo Mbeki Foundation and its patron former President Thabo Mbeki wishes to express sincere condolences to the family of Ray Phiri, his peers in the music industry, music and jazz lovers throughout the length and breadth of South Africa.
We say without fear of contradiction that your music will continue to provide South Africa with “spiritual healing” for generations to come.
Uze usibulisele… convey our greeting to all the South African music legends whom you will be joining in the after-life. In this regard we are thinking of Nana Coyote, Brenda Fasi. Zim Ngqawane, Joe Mafela, Victor Ntoni, Thandi Klassen, Miriam Makeba and others too numerous to mention.
Without doubt you will be joining the galaxy of stars produced by our beloved South Africa. Even as we write this tribute, the heavens reverberate with the melodious sounds which made all of you household names in the South African music scene.
HAMBA KAHLE BRA RAY. ISITIMELA SESIYAPHUMA KANTI SIYOHLALA SIKUKHUMBULA, SISHOV’INGOLOVANE!
May your soul rest in eternal peace!
Thabo Mbeki Foundation
July 12, 2017.