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Ray Phiri Obituary

Date: Jul 13, 2017

Rest in Peace Raymond "Ray" Chikapa Phiri

Ray Phiri was a South African guitarist and vocalist. His style of music could best be described as mbaqanga and afro-jazz fusion. He was the lead member of the afro-fusion band Stimela.

In April 2011, President Jacob Zuma conferred Phiri the Order of the Ikhamanga in Silver for 'excellent achievement in the field of music and his contribution to the struggle against apartheid'.

Phiri, together with Vusi Mahlasela, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 18th South African Music Awards on 30 April 2012. "Through Ray and Vusi's music, they have made an invaluable contribution to the culture of South Africa, and have exported that same culture to the rest of the world". MTN SAMA CEO Randall Abrahams


Ray Chikapa Phiri was born on 23 March 1947 in Mbombela (Nelspruit), Mpumalanga. He started playing the guitar at a young age. Growing up the young Phiri was surrounded by musical instruments such as the piano and drums. He was inspired by his late father Kanyama Phiri to take up music. Phiri had his lucky break when he danced for the Dark City Sisters. From the gig he saved up enough money to travel to Johannesburg.

He  the founder member of the Cannibals, a 1970s soul music group. The group was later disbanded and Phiri went on to start Stimela which means train in sesotho. The group went on to successfully produce gold and platinum-winning albums like Fire, Passion and Ecstasy (1991), Look, Listen and Decide(1992), as well as the controversial People Don’t Talk So Let’s Talk. According to the online history website - -  some of Stimela's tracks Whispers in the Deep and Phinda Mzala were restricted by the old SABC. This did not have the desired effect as it resulted in the group's popularity soaring.

Phiri joined Paul Simon on his Graceland  Project and he went on to be his main guitarist over a number of years. He toured with Simon on four of the following tours: 'Event of a lifetime', 'Born at the right time', Graceland (1987) and Graceland (1989). He has featured in two of his albums Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. The Graceland tours were Simon's way of getting audiences across the United States to understand what apartheid was about thus mobilising support for the South Africa's struggle for liberation.

A November 2003 car accident claimed the life of Phiri’s wife - Mapule - and left him critically injured. The musician was reportedly behind the wheel, traveling on a gravel road at high speed, when he lost control of his car causing it to overturn.  Lindelani Mathonsi, Larry Myatha and a baby girl, Lenhle, believed to be Phiri's daughter were also in the car.

Phiri was still actively involved in the arts, and arts development especially around his home province Mpumalanga. He was the founder of the Ray Phiri Artists Institute which is based at Thembeka High School in Ka Nyamaze in Mbombela. He was also the chairperson of the Mpumalanga Arts Council.

*To date Stimela has a catalogue of  approximately 15 albums.


1947 He was born in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.
1962 Has his first break when he dances for the Dark City Sisters during their performance in Mpumalanga. From this gig he makes enough money to travel to Johannesburg.

1960s / 1970s
1972 It is during this time in Johannesburg that the group the Cannibals is founded and disbanded in the early 80s.
1984 1984: Phiri starts the group Stimela.  It is an afro-fusion group made up of eight members including Phiri. Other well known members include the late Nana Coyote.

They are the genius behind hits such as Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Look, Listen and Decide,  People Don’t Talk so Let’s Talk and Whispers in the Dark to mention a few.
Mid 80s

His international career reportedly comes to a halt as a result of a car accident that left him in hospital for a number of months. The accident, which occurred between Kroonstad and Parys, claims the lives of his manager Peter Kunene and backing vocalist Jeanne Magubane. The trio was returning from a performance in Free State.
1989 Stimela splits up but reunites in 2010 to work on an album.
   1987 Tours with Paul Simon on his Graceland Tour.
   1989 Joins Paul Simon again on his Graceland Tour.

Ray Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo join Paul Simon on his successful Graceland project. Phiri and Simon later worked together on another Simon album -  Rhythm of Saints and this led to performances at Central Park and Madison Square Garden.  Thereafter the two were invited as guests on several American TV shows.

November: Phiri’s wife is killed in a car accident – the musician was reportedly behind the wheel, traveling on a gravel road at high speed, when he lost control of his vehicle. Other occupants of the car were Lindelani Mathonsi (Stimela's keyboard player), Larry Nyathaza and an eight-month-old baby girl believed to be Phiri’s daughter, Lenhle.
2010 Stimela reunites and release an album by the title of 'A Lifetime'. Jabu Shibumbe, Mnca Mtshali, Lloyd Lelosa and Phiri, the four original members, are still with the band. There are new and younger band members who have since joined Stimela to make up for the void left by original members who have since passed on. They are Bafana Khuzwayo and Portia Sibiya 

Former and late band members are Charlie Ndlovu, Thapelo Khomo, Mandla Masuku, the late Teaspoon Ndelu, Ntokozo Zungu, the late Sello Mphatsoane and the Nana Coyote Motijoana.
2011 27 April: Receives the order of the Ikhamanga in Silver 'for his excellent achievement in the field of music and contribution to the struggle against apartheid'.

IT billionaire - Robert Gumede - sponsors Phiri's two-week Australian visit. This, as a form of thanking Phiri for his contribution to South African cultural life and the arts teaching and developmental work he continues to do in Mpumalanga.
2012 April: Phiri received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs)
2016 In September: Phiri reportedly tied the knot with his Venda sweetheart Rabelani Mulaudzi, 24, in a low-key traditional wedding held in Tshisauli village in Venda. Mulaudzi confirmed she wedded the dance wizard but refused to answer further questions about her pregnancy and the wedding ceremony.
2016 In September he was reportedly in a car accident on his way to Mbombela from Joburg when his Audi A6 crashed into two pedestrians on the Samora Machel off-ramp near the N4, Middelburg. One died on the scene and another was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Ray himself was not injured.
2017 12 July: Phiri dies, he was admitted to a Nelspruit hospital and had been suffering from lung cancer


Hotstix‏ Mabuse @siphohotstix: I have no words on the loss of my dear friend Ray Phiri. I am too devastated and I am at a loss for words
Min. Nathi Mthethwa‏ @NathiMthethwaSA: We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of a jazz legend and a one-of-a-kind musician, ntate Ray Phiri.
Deborah Fraser ‏ @deborah_fraser: Well wishes to the legendary Ray Phiri of Stimela.We pray for him and his family.

Lira @Miss_LIRA: Today my playlist consists of the best of Stimela as I celebrate the life and music of Ray Phiri! Rest In Peace.

The Presidency

President Jacob Zuma has extended his heartfelt condolences on the passing of late jazz Musician Mr Raymond Phiri, who passed on today, 12 July 2017.

Mr Raymond Chikapa Enock Phiri was a South African Jazz, fusion and mbaqanga musician born in in present-day Mbombela, Mpumalanga. He became a founder member of the soul music giants group of the 1970s, the Cannibals, which were later joined by the late soul singer Mpharanyana. When the Cannibals disbanded, he founded Stimela (Steam Train), with whom he conceived gold and platinum-winning albums like Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Look, Listen and Decide as well as the controversial People Don’t Talk So Let’s Talk.

Mr Ray Chikapa Phiri was also honoured with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his sterling contribution to the South African music industry and the successful use of arts as an instrument of social transformation. National Orders are the highest awards that a country, through its President, bestows on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals. 

“He was a musical giant. This is indeed a huge loss for South Africa and the music industry as a whole. We are with his family in thoughts and prayers during this trying period. May his soul rest in peace,” President Zuma said.

Dr Bongani Ngqulunga 
National Freedom Party

The President of the National Freedom Party (NFP), Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi has described the passing of legendary jazz musician, Ray Chikapa Phiri as a huge loss.
“It is indeed a sad day in our country and the continent because Mr Phiri was one of the greatest sons of the soil whose contribution to the struggle of the black person in South Africa can easily be traced through his music.
“He was one of the rare breed of musicians who were very fearless and took pertinent issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, particularly black Africans, to the international stage, letting the universal community into the struggles of those that were regarded inferior. He knew that music cut-across every boundary and used it to express the views of the general society back then.

 “We are really saddened by his passing because it leaves a huge void as we are slowly loosing brave artists who can tackle issues on behalf of the majority of our people through music.
“On behalf of my party, the NFP, I wish to express my sincere condolences to his family, band members of Istimela group and the entire music fraternity. May they find solace in the fact that Ray Phiri fought a good fight and ran his race to the fullest,” said KaMagwaza-Msibi.

Canaan Mdletshe 
African National Congress

It with profound sadness that the African National Congress has learnt of the passing of music luminary and trailblazer Ray Chikapa Phiri. The African National Congress sends its heartfelt condolences to the Phiri family and the music industry on the loss of so colossal an icon in the industry and our country at large.

Ray Phiri was a voice for the voiceless and a legend of our time. An immensely gifted composer, vocalist and guitarist, he breathed consciousness and agitated thoughts of freedom through his music. Through Whispers in the Deep, amongst his many works, Phiri, his band Stimela and his friends, Nana Coyote, amongst others, taught us to forever remain inspired and never understand hate. They spoke of knowledge and pain, necessary preconditions to develop a single nation of love, formed from us - the “tributaries to the great river of of pain”.

Phiri was also a global ambassador of the hopes of a new South Africa and a committed activist to our nation’s vision of fundamental change. For his efforts he was awarded the Presidential Order of Ikhamanga by the President of the Republic, Comrade Jacob Zuma for his “successful use of the arts as an instrument of social transformation”

While Ray Phiri may be gone, his music lives on. He has played his role in unearthing and support new talent in the industry and has been an ardent and vocal advocate of the call for greater investment in local content development and the development of the industry as a whole.

The indelible contribution Ray Phiri has made to the tapestry that is South African arts and culture will never be forgotten. May his life’s work forever remain an inspiration to generations of artists who would emulate his example of using the arts to effect change and inspire hope amongst his people.

It is by us carrying forward his legacy that Ray Phiri will never die.  We have no doubt that as we commit ourselves to realize his life’s dream of a transformed industry we will forever hear his unmistakable voice urging us on “khawuphinde, khawuphinde mzala”

Zizi Kodwa 0


   1982: Fire, Passion And Ecstasy

   1983: Rewind

   1985: Shadows, Fear And Pain

   1986: Look, Listen And Decide

   1987: Unfinished Story

   1989: Trouble In The Land Of Plenty

   1996: Out Of The Ashes

   2000: Steam Tracks (Best of)

   2001: Live At The Market Theatre - 1st Half (Live)

   2002: The 2nd Half (Live)

   2010: A Lifetime...

   2011: Turn On The Sun

Awards and Accolades

       Grammy Award for his participation in the Graceland Tour
       Best Male Vocalist
       Musician of the Year
       Music Personality Award for Contribution to Local Music | Autumn Harvest
       2011 - nominated for four MTN South African Music Awards (SAMAs)


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