South African Cultural Observatory

Mzansi's Golden Economy a rare commodity, Bra Ray Phiri, continues to live among us

BY Mduduzi Mbada 21.07.17

WHEN a colossal like Bra Ray Phiri passes on, a part of you does go because he has been part of our lives as long as we can remember. Growing up in the townships the music of Ray Chikapa Phiri gave us hope and inspired us that a better tomorrow is possible.

In fact it is through him, his band Stimela and many other great legends like Bra Sipho Hot Stix Mabuse, the late Margaret Mcingane and Bra Johnny Mekoe and many others who turned our townships from squalor and Labour reserves into livable places.

This was indeed the case such that anyone that mattered, opened a tavern held a function it was the music of Stimela that would play, put differently Ray Phiri, Stimela and other great legends would be part of the functions and as such became a household name. For instance you would hear "Hey Zwakala", as if Bra Ray is calling those who are not at the party to come and join the party.

Bra Ray would have asks that we should try and see the world through the eyes of the child, primarily because the child sees beauty and as such the world is a wonderful place to be at. This must continue to guide us because if we see the world through the eyes of the child we will protect the child, the Girl Child in particular and indeed the earth and the environment for future generations.

Growing up in Zola myself, where our next door Neighbour had a tavern, KaDolly, we would sleep and wake up to all kind of music but more so to the music of Bra Ray Phiri and Stimela and off course many other great South African artist. In addition direct opposite my grandmother’s house was Margaret Mcingane's house and Bra Willie the bassist. This was a place of music it is no wonder that Zola ended producing so many musical talents and interestingly in the same precinct.

Back to Bra Ray, whom I consider an intellectual who was thorough and analytical in the production of his music such that he understood his surroundings very well. Hence he knew that he was producing music for future generations. As a result he used music to communicate a message of hope. In the same vain he was able to tell the world that things are not going well, hence he would ask, tell me where did we go wrong? He would ask again, tell me tell me where did we go wrong. This he did because he was building consciousness and saying to all us let us stand up, less not correct whether we was wrong in society. These questions represented a thinker who knew that through his work he can reach the mind and the soul. 

It is no wonder that his music and his artistic talent represents the best in our nation and indeed the continent. Bra Ray Phiri and Stimela took the message of legends such as Bob Marley and others to greater heights. This was his contribution in the fight against discrimination and you could therefore conclude him and Stimela were not afraid they took the bull by the horn. This was evident in one of their piece of work, whispers in the dark, wherein they encouraged us not to whisper in the dark, as the song would say; Ungahlebi, Speak your mind. Don't be afraid. Don't whisper in the deep. Speak out your mind. Stand up! Wake up!

Bra Ray and Stimela were indeed courageous through music they stood for principle and inspired the nation to stand firm and speak truth to power. They music and in particular these lyrics, speak out your mind, stand up and wake still resonate with the rest of us today. Our country needs to hid the words of Bra Ray and Stimela, we must stand up, we must speak truth to power and in his honour build integrity in society and in strong institutions society and government that will resolve ongoing challenges. 

We must do so because that is how best we can honour the legacy of this hero, a humanist who never stopped dreaming. He dreamed big and worked hard to achieve his dream. In the most of difficult of times under apartheid he soldiered on and including ensuring that the arts are recognized as a key contributor in the economy and in social cohesion and nation building.

In recognising the work of Bra Ray and many of his generation and the future role of the creative industries, we adopted a strategy called Mzansi Golden Economy. This was aimed at ensuring that we invest in our most precious of commodities the creative industries. This was to make sure that never again shall our artist die as paupers and more critically that they are given the dignity and respect they deserve primarily because they are a rare commodity.

Let us continue to preserve our commodities the artistic community. Bra Ray has played his role, he has made us proud and today, tomorrow and in the future we will always remember him as we sing, whispers in the dark and zwakala, more importantly let us continue to see the world in the eyes of the Child as Bra Ray would have asked us to do so.

We will miss you Bra Ray.

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