In devastating news yesterday, it was confirmed that South African musician, Ray Phiri sadly passed away at the age of 70 from lung cancer.
Ray Phiri was known among his native South Africa, as well as internationally throughout his career. Although most famous for providing the sound, arrangements and guitar backing for Paul Simon’s prolific Graceland album, Phiri was also celebrated in South Africa as one of the most influential musicians of his time. After co-founding the impressive band, Stimela, Phiri became known for his eclectic fusions of smooth jazz with a South African genre, mbaqanga.
Throughout his career, Phiri embarked on political and musical collaborations to bring to light the atrocities of the apartheid, including his collaboration with American musician, Paul Simon. In a 2012 documentary surrounding the development and creation of Simon’s most popular album, Graceland, Phiri remarked on their partnership:
Here I was, living in South Africa, and then here comes a particular individual called Paul Simon. For me, music is the closest thing to religion. And if it’s utilized in the right way, it can inform and bring people closer, and they can find solutions to their problems. And Graceland did that.
After the news of his death, the leading political party, the ANC, have released a statement.
Ray Phiri was a voice for the voiceless and a legend of our time. An immensely gifted composer, vocalist and guitarist, he breathes consciousness and agitated thoughts of freedom through his music… 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.
RIP Ray Phiri. To celebrate his life, career and his influence, we want you to listen to this: