As the sun set behind the valleys and mountains of Pilanesberg on the evening of the 12th July 2017, so did the life of a legend in the history of South African Music industry. Small in built, yet gigantic in stature, Ray Phiri’s legacy shall forever remain in the lives of South Africans, the rest of the African continent and the world at large. He shall forever whisper messages of hope from the deep, reminding us to remain united and liberate ourselves from the chains of poverty. He will ask us to repeat (Phinda mzala) what we did to apartheid for us to liberate ourselves economically. By whispering that to us he will be the first to remind us that our story is not yet finished, we still have a long journey ahead of us. We know that through his music, many lives have been molded; many hearts have been mended; many good fights have been fought and nations have been built.
Indeed, Ray Phiri was a nation builder. Through his music he decried oppression and discrimination. He advocated for discipline, dedication and commitment to building our nation. Being born in the beautiful province of Mpumalanga, a province whose wealth resides in its heritage and tourism sites, Bra Ray appreciated and sang praises of the South African landscape with its fauna and flora. In his music, we learnt about, and got to appreciate the symbiosis between nature and humans. This is a province famous for its legendary stories of war and conquer, the diversity of cultures and inhabitants who coexist in harmony and peace, the beautiful plateaus and its low and high velds. The history of this province has primarily been preserved through story telling from one generation to the next. Ray Phiri himself was a story teller of note who made the burden of apartheid seems lighter. That intricate ability of story-telling remains one of Ray Phiri’s gifts and now legacy. Story-telling remains one of the corner stones from which the rest of our heritage is built on. For many years in our times Ray Phiri was one of the leaders in the entertainment industry, creating new music while developing the young talent.
As his body lies peacefully in silence, we reflect on the broad smile and hearty laughter that this poet possessed. We remember how he mimicked different animal walks on stage while performing Zwakala and other great songs. We remember his bear hugs and funny jokes that kept everyone bemused. We remember his changing facial expression while delicately pulling the strings of his guitar as if it’s a train meandering through the mountains, the valleys and the river gorges and the hills of the South African landscape. With all this history, a clarion call is made to the nation to be proud of its heritage as Ray Phiri was. Let the children learn from this music martyr. Let the young generation take the baton forward and provide us with music that will last for generations to come. Let them create music not only for the love of money and fame, but for purposes of reminding and reflection, educating and heal.
To the family, we say your loss is our loss. Thank you for allowing us to also share your pain. Thank you for allowing us to share his life with you. To the children; Your father left very big shoes to fill but because you are made of same cloth as he is, you will not fail. Allow him to rest in peace for he has done what he was brought to this earth to do, now the ball is in your court to make your own lives. He has provided you with enough guidance.
ROBALA KA KGOTSO