Ray Phiri : Thank you for the music

Personal tribute to Ray Phiri by DJ John Matinde

It is not everyday that when one hears of the sad demise of a loved one, friend or colleague, one is immediately moved to pay a publicised tribute. Today is not one of them, as I was soon persuaded to, once a good friend and colleague, journalist Violet Gonda, sent me a “have you heard…” message.

Before his death, the musician appealed to the media to respect his privacy
Before his death, the musician appealed to the media to respect his privacy (Gallo Images)

I will not profess to have known Ray better than others, but I have a personal perspective and reflection on our encounters, for yes, our paths had crossed, many dry years ago, in the 80’s, when “Bhudi” Ray (as I used to look up to him as a bigger brother) and I met.

For all my sins, my career in the media brought me in touch with many people from all walks of life, but particularly from the entertainment industry, as that remains my staple diet and favourite tipple.

I first learned of Ray’s music whilst he was still with the Cannibals. Mpharanyana and the Cannibals, as my foggy memory recalls, long before his sojourn into “Afro-Jazz”. I think their beat then was more reminiscent of Mbaqanga…which was to my ears anyway, evolving from “Smanje-manje”.

I do not like to pigeon-hole music particularly, as I think that may thwart or impede my enjoyment of the rich diversity of our music, but I express that point of view more in illustration of the breath and depth of musical talent which Ray Phiri possessed and honed over the years.

I was to later personally meet Ray (then fronting his band, Stimela), at a concert or two before the famed Paul Simon Graceland Concert, which I was also fortunate to compere. I enjoyed several radio and television interviews with Bhudi Ray, which usually had the added bonus of off air mingling and socialising.

Ray had a very broad talent, and was also of a very deep and philosophical bent. We enjoyed several social discussions that spread over a wide variety of issues. I enjoyed his wit and incisive wisdom, optimism and foresight. I always emerged a much enriched individual from my deliberations with him.

There are many talented musicians in Africa, and Bhudi Ray surely must be included in the cream of the African crop. I do not need to do a hard sell of his talents. His legions of fans will do that for him. He was a befitting showman and frontman for the super-group Stimela. His guitar licks were legendary, and I can still see him flicking that guitar plectrum at the end of “Highland Drifter” into the Rufaro Stadium (Harare) crowd. Wow!

His untimely passing on is a truly sad occasion, not only for his fans, but family and friends, who are deeply in our thoughts and prayers. May they find comfort in the fact that he was a much loved person, who gave more than he received, enlightened more than he lost, entertained more than we deserved, and shone a light where we surely must follow!

Where words fail, music speaks. Allow me poetic licence when I say: Bhudi Ray, “thank you for the music”. Go well.

John Matinde, Broadcaster. UK😏

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