Known as a jazz, fusion and mbaqanga musician, Ray was born on 23 March 1947 near Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. He was a founding member of the Cannibals in the 1970s which later became the hugely influential Afro-fusion band, Stimela. Ray had received many accolades during the course of his career and was recognized not only in South Africa but internationally.
A Namibian artist and sports journalist Carlos Kambaekwa described Phiri’s passing as sad, saying that it’s not only for South African music but for the world. He described him as an international acclaimed artist who was extra ordinary. “He was probably the best musician of his generation and one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen. At times he was misunderstood and it was only later on, that people realised that he was always fighting for the cause of decisions, especially black music,” said Carlos.
He further noted that Ray introduced the kind of music that has never played anywhere else, with his band ‘Stimela’ saying that they had the kind of sound which is never going to be replicated by anybody.
“He was a song writer of note, a genius, an exceptional guitarist, singer, composer, writer and a dancer. Above all, he was an overcomer and made a good living out of music.
“Some of us have learnt quite a lot from him for instance, the way musicians are supposed to behave. Stimela is one of the bands that never separated. Unlike many bands that break when everybody gets famous and start going their own direction. Ray has kept the Stimela band together and has still been playing actively until the time of his death,” said Carlos.
With the common misconception of artists being dagga smokers, Carlos says that Ray was not a drinker and he lived a clean life.
A member of the Halalas band, Matheus Ipinge hailed Ray as a very good musician. “He was a professional musician and a much disciplined gentleman. He was a good guitarist and a very funny guy who never failed to amuse the audience. I remember him from the years of apartheid when he played really good music.
Conrad Angula who has known Ray for about fifteen years, says that the news came as a shock and he cannot believe it happened. “The last time I spoke to him was when I had an interview with him the last time he was in Namibia,” said Conrad.
He also described Ray as a man of intelligence with good writing skills. “South Africa has lost a giant in the music industry. He might have been small but he was a great entertainer with a beautiful voice. He was probably one of the best guitarists I have ever met,” said Conrad.
Those who knew the music icon described him as an all-rounder musician who was not only a great singer but also a brilliant guitarist and entertainer.