Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
SOUTH African jazz legend Ray Phiri died yesterday morning after a two-month battle with lung cancer.
Phiri (70) who has in the past collaborated with Zimbabwean music legends Oliver Mtukudzi and Louis Mhlanga was admitted to hospital in South Africa two weeks ago.
Before his death, Phiri who had been under the care of an oncologist had reportedly asked that he be given space and that his privacy be respected.
“Let me suffer pain on my own with dignity,” he was quoted by South Africa media.
His band member and friend, Richard Mitchell, had highlighted that the artiste had exhausted all his private funds, including medical aid funds saying he was in need of funding.
To try and assist, he made Phiri’s condition public by starting a crowd-funding initiative to try and raise funds for his medical bills.
“Please help by donating funds as he has exhausted all his private funds. Phiri has received many awards in recognition of his contribution to the music industry,” wrote Mitchell.
Fellow artistes including Ringo Madlingozi and Mara Louw had heeded Mitchell’s call by sending Phiri’s banking details to friends to support but alas, all was in vain as Phiri did not make it.
Family spokesperson, Paul Nkanyane said when he died, Phiri was surrounded by friends and relatives at the clinic in the north-eastern city of Nelspruit.
The guitarist, producer and vocalist rose to fame when he featured on Paul Simon’s Graceland album in 1986. A year later, Simon toured Zimbabwe with Phiri to promote the album and performed at Rufaro Stadium. South Africa’s most famous musicians such as the late Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Lady Smith Black Mambazo who also featured on the album were also part of the tour.
Louis Mhlanga who was once described by the late Phiri as an amazing person said he has lost a friend who he worked with for many years.
“Ray was a good friend who I’ve known for many years and I know all his music as I played all of his songs with him. I last saw him last week when I visited him at hospital.
“We spoke and he seemed fine to me. I was preparing to go pay him a visit when I got the news that he had died,” said Mhlanga.
He said he would remember Phiri, who is known for his hit track Awuphinde Mzala featuring the late Nana Coyote, as an intelligent musician.
“With Ray, you’d always learn something from conversing with him as he’d broaden every topic. He was a humorous, loving and caring person, one of the greatest artistes of all time,” said Mhlanga.
The last time Phiri was in Zimbabwe, he visited Bulawayo where he performed at a packed Rainbow Hotel in 2013.