Raymond Chikapa Phiri (1947 - )
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Raymond Chikapa Phiri
Mr Raymond Chikapa Phiri was born in 1947 in Nelspruit, the present-day Mbombela, in Mpumalanga. He grew up with a passion for music. He started playing the guitar at a very tender age, inspired by his late father Kanyama Phiri. He grew up to play a variety of music instruments, including the piano and drums.
It has been indeed a long trip for him. From the early days in Mpumalanga, where he was born and raised, to where he used to dance to his troubadour father’s puppet shows, Mr Phiri had his life cut out for entertainment. He had his first break when in 1962; he managed to dance for the legendary Dark City Sisters when they performed in Mpumalanga. He made enough money, giving him a chance to travel to Johannesburg.
He became a founder member of the soul music giants group of the 1970s, the Cannibals, which were later joined by the late soul singer Mpharanyana. When the Cannibals disbanded, he founded Stimela (Steam Train), with whom he conceived gold and platinum-winning albums like Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Look, Listen and Decide as well as the controversial People Don’t Talk So Let’s Talk.
It came as no surprise when one of their most memorable tracks Whispers in the Deep, or Phinda Mzala as it was affectionately known, was restricted for broadcast by the old South African Broadcasting Corporation. Contrary to the desired effect, this in fact contributed heavily to the group’s popularity.
The Stimela albums were compared to a silent revolution; nothing less than inspiring. Fifteen years before the advent of democracy in South Africa, when fellow citizens could finally air their views, creatively, Mr Phiri had charted that path, becoming one of the voices of the oppressed and downtrodden.
Singajindi Majita, he urged; don’t dare give up, a message that nestled comfortably with the political conditions of the time. The impact was more mobilisation of a people hungry for freedom, with songs providing courage and hope for the future. It is the silent voices of the oppressed and pressures by the oppressor that Mr Phiri most expressed in his contribution to the attainment of a democratic South Africa.
He was part of the eight months’ long Graceland Tour going around the word that was headed by American singer, Mr Paul Simon. The aim of the tour was to mobilise states in support of the struggle for liberation, better living standards for the oppressed African states and promoting cross-cultural dialogue. He later earned a Grammy Award for his participation on the tour.
While successful, the tour was fraught with some controversy, but also helped the South Africans to make names for themselves abroad.
Mr Ray Phiri and Stimela joined other top South African artists such as Mr Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ms Yvonne Chaka Chaka for a tour to France, dubbed Frenchement Zoulou.
He is the founder of the Ray Phiri Artists Institute, which is focusing on unearthing talent and promoting the best music talent that Mpumalanga can produce. The institute is based at Thembeka High School in Ka Nyamazane, a few kilometres from Mbombela.
We are proud to honour Mr Ray Chikapa Phiri with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his sterling contribution to the South African music industry and the successful use of arts as an instrument of social transformation.