More than a year later after the sad passing of Jazz Legend Ray Phiri, the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency (MPTA), along with the University of Mpumalanga, and various stakeholders launched the inaugural annual Ray Phiri Memorial Lecture at the Emnotweni Arena in Mbombela on Wednesday, the 31st of October 2018.
The purpose of the event, according to Nomaswazi Shabangu from the MTPA, was to celebrate the life of Ray Phiri; “We are gathered today to celebrate the life and time of the great Chikapa Phiri. He was an icon and legend. Tourism is very relevant, because he promoted not only our country in the world, but also our province. The Ray Phiri Memorial Lecture is aimed at paying tribute to Ray Phiri who received numerous awards in recognition of his contribution in the music industry. Amongst those awards was the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, which was awarded to him by the President of South Africa. Ray Phiri successfully used the arts as an instrument for social transformation,” she said.
“Phiri and his band Stimela inspired many artists to play their part in the South African struggle against the oppressive government. He made South Africa proud and placed the country’s music on the world’s top recordings. During this tenure, he gave back to this country so that generations to come can remember his legacy,” Shabangu concluded.
Charles Mabaso, the Deputy Director-General of the National Department of Arts & Culture said in his keynote address: “First and foremost we have to acknowledge what the people of Mpumalanga have done for all of us to be here to be part of this inaugural lecture in the memory of the late Ray Chikapa Phiri. It is important to acknowledge that in the olden days, people migrated to Gauteng because all the resources were there, and then we would take them and celebrate them as our own.”
He added; “Ray was born Fana Zulu many years ago, and in the process of the challenges that were faced in the country and all the challenges of family matters, he was later known as Ray Chikapa Phiri. What’s important to note is that he spent the rest of his life in the music industry. Although the music industry has evolved over the years; Ray was not part of that. When he first came into music, the record companies predominantly promoted international music. It was very difficult for black people to have access and make a difference in that regard. Ray was confronted by such challenges for over 40 years in the industry.”
“He was one of the people who initiated the South African Musicians Alliance, which was part of the United Democratic Front, maintaining and promoting cultural recorders in the country. In order for us to ensure that we support the legacy of Bra Ray, we should make sure that all the other musicians under the alliance are united.” Mabaso concluded.
The University of Mpumalanga’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rachmond Harward’s lecture went on as follows; “There’s a curious mystery about African music; it uplifts us, while it also tells a sad tale. It gives hope to the hopeless, those who have lost everything, and that is the power of music. I vividly remember the memorial service of the late Ray Phiri last year which was unlike any other. It wasn’t a sad occasion, but a celebration of a talented artist. When his family broke out to the floor dancing, it reminded us of how we should remember and celebrate greatness.”
“When a University is in a particular location; there are great expectations that that institution should be looking at issues that are relevant to the geographical place we’re situated in. The university also has a national and international mandate, so we cannot only focus on teaching and advancing knowledge.”
“When one looks at the University of Mpumalanga as it is rightfully situated in the province, it should reflect issues that are relevant to the people of Mpumalanga, not exclusively so, but it should include that. It should look at the philosophy, the attitude and also the culture of the people of this province. And when one looks at that aspect, when we start celebrating legends such as Ray Phiri and many other artists from the soil, we begin to speak about relevance as a University.”
“It must be embedded as a rightful place in which it has meaning to the people of Mpumalanga. When we then honour our legends in a meaningful way; then our people will be able to identify with our institution of higher learning, which will assist to advance its vision, and occasions like these help us to do precisely that. It’s that time when we can talk about being an authentic university.” Harward concluded.