Tribute by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the funeral service of Ray Phiri, Mbombela, Mpumalanga
Mam Rabelani Phiri and the entire Phiri family.
Acting Premier, Ms Refilwe Mbethe
Madam Speaker, Honourable Ms Baleka Mbete
Ministers and Deputy Ministers present
Representatives of the creative workers of our country
Member of the media
Ladies and gentlemen:
Today, we gather here to pay homage to one of our most revered and loved artists - Oom Ray, also fondly known as Bra Ray and Tata Ray and Chikapa - because first and foremost he was an uncle and brother to us all, a member of the family and a true patriot who loved this country with all his heart.
Of Raymond ‘Chikapa’ Enock Phiri must be said that he lived his life to the full and that he lived honestly and unflinchingly.
He lived true to the place and people that birthed him, true to those who clothed him and taught him everything he knew.
He lived true to this beautiful landscape of Mpumalanga with its mountains, ancient rocks, forests and rivers.
It’s cultural and heritage artefacts also show us an ancient past.
The circular stone settlements that crisscross this entire region show evidence that in this province is to be found some of the oldest towns in our pre-colonial history.
Through an embrace of home, Bra Ray developed a consistent, authentic vision and stayed close to his roots.
Even when, as an artist, he developed the musical traditions of earlier generations and made them speak to new times, he did so powerfully and in a way in which still showed respect, dignity and a close affinity to the culture of his motherland.
He paid homage to his roots, to those who had travelled the road before him, and therefore, when he played his music, he himself felt at ease and at peace with what he presented to his audience.
It is this integrity, this pride, this authenticity that has been so characteristic of Bray Ray Phiri.
This was his anchor and he never lost it or gave it up.
He allowed himself to be located by a true sense of home, in the dances of the people and through an embrace of culture. He then took this music to the world in such a way that it became world culture.
He demonstrated to us that the local can assert itself as global and that the uniqueness of our cultural offering allows it to hold its own in the globe and on the performance stages of the world.
He reminds of us the words of the former president of Guinea and a renowned poet, Ahmed Sekou Toure, who wrote:
"To take part in the African revolution it is not enough to write a revolutionary song: you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves."
Together with his other band members in Stimela, their songs appealed to new generations of South Africans who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s and who stood their ground and strove for freedom in the last decade of apartheid rule.
With expressive melodies and riveting lyrics, Ray Phiri together with his band members recorded platinum-winning albums such as Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Look, Listen and Decide, with some of his songs restricted for broadcast and banned on SABC Radio by apartheid censors.
“We shall always remember hit songs like ‘Singajindi Majita,’ ‘People don’t talk let’s talk’, ‘Phinda Mzala’ also featuring Nana Coyote, ‘Whispers in the Deep’ and ‘Zwakala.’ Ray Phiri and his contemporaries urged us on in the darkest days and fired the last salvos at apartheid.
This is what gave this music an edge, which it maintains to this day, as it still holds sway among music-lovers.
Ray Phiri’s songs are bright, defiant, quick-thinking, street-wise and urbane yet proudly asserting its roots.
He also sat on the board of the National Arts Council of South Africa where, from its outset, he pushed an agenda of transformation of the arts. For this reason, he became the Chairperson of the Mpumalanga Provincial Arts Council; and also the founder of Ray Phiri Arts Institute in KaNyamazane Township, developing local talent.
He collaborated with many other musicians and helped to advance their music.
Therefore it was fitting that he received the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver from President JG Zuma for his contribution to South African music and for his life’s work in the transformation of the arts.
Ray Phiri performed recently at the Bassline Africa Day Concert in Nasrec (May 27) and Zakifo Music Festival in Durban in Durban (28 May), festivals supported by the Department of Arts and Culture as part of Africa Month activities.
He also featured in the Sakifo Music Festival in the Reunion Island on 3 June 2017.
He actively supported the idea of a Pan-African platform that brings together the finest music festivals within the Southern Africa region through touring circuits of artists mainly from the African continent.
He remained true to a mother who had worked hard to support him and a father who had nurtured him and who had inspired him to be a musician.
He went into the world not to be changed by it but to change it.
His life ended where it began here in this province.
Let us remember him in his own words, when he said in an interview that:
“I am a simple man who loves life, music, the arts and people. I am a proud father and grandfather. I am a patriot and an advocate of artists and their rights. I am spiritual in my own unassuming way. I am a musician and a writer. I can be philosophical, but I don’t live with my head in the clouds or in the sand.”
Bra Ray dearly loved his family and was a doting father and we thank his wife and family for allowing him to spend the best part of his life on the musical stage and sharing his songs with us.
Let us pledge in his memory that we shall continue his good work as a patriot, as an advocate of artists’ rights and through intensifying our efforts in repositioning arts and culture in our country and heightening its status in the world.
May his soul rest in peace.
Long Live the Spirit of Chikapa!
I thank you.