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Ray Phiri (1947 - 2017)

Getty / Gallo Images / Photo by Lefty Shivambu

Ray Phiri (1947 - 2017)

Ray Phiri, a South African musician who was featured on Paul Simon’s album “Graceland,” died Wednesday, July 12, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 70.

Phiri had been treated for lung cancer for the past few months. He died in a hospital in the city of Nelspruit. His death was announced by a family representative, Paul Nkanyane.

Phiri, who was born March 23, 1947, in Mpumalanga, South Africa, helped bring a unique, South African sound to Simon’s “Graceland” album. He was the lead vocalist and guitarist of the popular South African fusion band Stimela. Stimela combined jazz with mbaqanga, which is a rhythm-heavy style of music. One of their most popular songs was a protest song in the 1980s titled “Whispers in the Deep.”


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In 1985, Simon asked Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo to join his “Graceland” project. The album proved an international success. “Graceland,” which won the Grammy Award for album of the year in 1987, appears on many critics lists as one of the best albums of the 1980s.

Phiri worked again with Simon on “Rhythm of the Saints,” Simon’s 2012 album. Phiri also performed live with Simon on his “Graceland” anniversary tour that same year.

The African National Congress released a statement Wednesday regarding Phiri’s many contributions to South Africa’s music industry:

“Ray Phiri was a voice for the voiceless and a legend of our time. An immensely gifted composer, vocalist, and guitarist, he breathed consciousness and agitated thoughts of freedom through his music. ... He has played his role in unearthing and support new talent in the industry and has been an ardent and vocal advocate of the call for greater investment in local content development and the development of the industry as a whole.”

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