The SABC has confirmed on Wednesday morning that South African music veteran Ray Phiri is dead.
The jazz legend succumbed to a battle with lung cancer and had recently been admitted to a hospital in Nelspruit. He died at the age of 70.
Phiri reportedly passed away at the hospital at around 3:30 am on Wednesday morning surrounded by his family and close friends.
Earlier this month, reports emerged that the veteran was fighting for his life in the hospital. Consequently, a friend and band mate Richard Mitchell started a crowdfunding to help him with his financial challenges that resulted from the illness.
However, the project was shut down by Phiri’s family before it garnered enough money. He asked for space and privacy to deal with his illness with dignity. Apparently, he knew the end was near and didn’t want to trouble anyone.
Phiri was scheduled to perform at Rocking the Daisies music festival later this year.
A few Lesser-known facts about the legendary Ray Phiri
One important fact to take note of is that Ray Phiri died a legend. He was a self-taught guitarist, jazz, fusion and mbaganga musician who was born on 23 March, 1947 near Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. In the 1970s, Phiri became one of the founding members of the Cannibals. The group later grew in size and was renamed Stimela, becoming a very influential Afro-fusion band.
The name Stimela was born out of a life-changing experience in Mozambique, when they were stranded in Maputo for three months. As a result, the band members had to sell all their belongings to pay for a train home. This trip was a turning point as it was where they conceived the new name for the band. Notably, the word ‘train’ is translated as ‘stimela’ in Nguni languages.
Phiri was badly injured in 1987 in a car crash that claimed the lives of his band manager and six others. The accident left Phiri so traumatised that he couldn’t do music for a very long time. He later re-emerged from his musical “exile” after 11 years.
Phiri’s wife Daphney also died in a car accident on an isolated Mpumalanga road in 2003. The unfortunate incident happened when the couple’s car overturned. The accident left Phiri with serious neck injuries.
Phiri’s daughter, Nonku is also following in her father’s footstep and is doing well as a musician, fashion designer and rapper.