“Songs as truthful as a dream/flow as steady as a stream/A stream of knowledge and of pain…”
If any words summed up the work of Raymond Chikapa Enoch Phiri, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday, aged 70, in his birthplace, Nelspruit, it was those. They come from the 1986 song he co-wrote with the Ashley Subel: Whispers in the Deep (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy9QPjUkvvM) – a song that became one of the decade’s anthems of liberation, and lives still.
Phiri’s Malawi-born father, “Just Now” Phiri, was a guitarist, and that family history gives the lie to all the xenophobic myths that cringe before colonialist borders. Migrant workers just like ‘Just Now’ built the economy, and fattened capitalist profits with their sweat. But they also built South African culture and music through the sharing, swapping and inventing of ideas that took place in hostels, shebeens and backyards. The king of instruments…
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