Jazz legend Ray Phiri’s deep spiritual connection with Bob Marley

Nelspuit born Ray Phiri (70) a South African jazz legend has died after suffering from lung cancer. Born on 23rd March 1947 Phiri shot to fame in 1985, when Paul Simon asked him and Ladysmith Black Mambazo to join his Graceland project. Phiri,  who was a founding member of the Cannibals and the world celebrated group – Stimela, penned the piece below for Forbes Africa in April 2015 on his deep spiritual connection with Bob Marley. Forbes Africa asked him to write it in commemoration of Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence day.

Bob Marley’s song Zimbabwe has a deep spiritual connection with me. I fell in love with Marley’s music in the late 1970s as a producer on the RPM label that distributed his music in South Africa.

Zimbabwe, though set to a laid back groove, is a potent, revolutionary and uplifting piece of poetry that I can never tire of hearing. It is a call to action for Africans to liberate themselves. Zimbabwe was host to me and many South Africans in exile and a champion for our own independence in South Africa. When Marley brought these elements together, live at Rufaro Stadium in Harare in 1980, it was inspirational.

Bob Marley opens and closes with the line Every man got a right to decide his own destiny. What a powerful statement for a black man to make in 1980. Back then, Cold War politics saw major powers pay little attention to the right of the African to exercise proper self-determination. It was a time of puppet masters, mercenaries and assassinations. In one line, Marley asserts a notion similarly enshrined in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence – ‘that all men are created equal’ and whose rights includelife, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. When Marley says in this judgement there is no partiality and brother you’re right, you’re right, you’re right, so right he is affirming the concept that the African not only has inalienable rights but is justified in the right to determine and assert them as he sees fit – even if it means fighting back.

I love Marley’s use of Jamaican patois in the chorus to toast Zimbabwe’s independence. I can see the African in him digging deep within the soul of his vernacular to express himself beyond the confines of the English language. Lively expressions like Natty Dread it (let your hair down/shake those locks free – be black and proud of it), set it up (live it up), mash it up (raise the roof), and dub it (get down), all conjure up images of people having a good time, united in a colorful celebration. It is not just celebrating Zimbabwe’s independence but celebrating that Africans have brought that liberation about. Marley’s wit and optimism shines in the repetition of the oxymoron little trouble/little struggle – almost poking a finger up at the establishment by demeaning the barrier they represented to African independence.

Marley does not shy away from the sobering realities of the struggle for independence. We gon’ fight, we have to fight, fight for our rights resonates strongly with me as this became our reality in South Africa. By 1980, many young people in apartheid era South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia had answered that call to go arm in arm with arms to fight this struggle. When many of our leaders were imprisoned or gagged by the state, we as artists and civic leaders stepped up and became the inspirational voices and ‘real revolutionaries’ Marley is referring to. Our words became metaphoric arms, arming our people’s consciousness to fight back. When I say, Don’t be afraid, don’t whisper in the deep. Speak out your mind, stand up! and I’m inspired. I cannot understand hate in Whispers in the Deep I am channeling Marley’s call to action. I am encouraging our people to take a stand against everything apartheid stood for.

Marley also sketches a blueprint for post-apartheid South Africa with the call to come together to overcome, challenge the divide and rule legacy and find humanity in each other (in every man’s chest there beats a heart). We could not be passive, hoping naively that apartheid would end. We took Marley’s inspiration to fight, and then cast aside our internal power struggles to build a new society founded on peace, love and harmony. We wrote songs to encourage our people to examine themselves, unite, keep fighting and awaken the world to our plight – songs like Singa Jindi Majita by Stimela, Asimbonanga by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, and Weeping by Bright Blue. When we took our music abroad, we gave a voice to the anti-apartheid movement and challenged the propaganda war of Pik Botha’s government. We encouraged boycotts and protests. We united across racial lines to form plural organizations like the UDF in 1983 and, as artists, the South African Musicians Alliance in 1986. These movements crystalized social reform, contributing to the end of apartheid and laying the foundations for the democratic South Africa we live in today.

I believe Bob Marley’s messages in Zimbabwe of African emancipation, self-determination and renaissance are still relevant 35 years later. At a forum at the African Union in Addis Ababa, I worked with other African artists to forge the vision of an African Renaissance by 2063. Echoes of I don’t want my people to be contrary and Every man got a right to decide his own destiny were in the dialogue and actions of these determined and united Africans.

That spirit lives on. Marley was truly a prophet of our time.

Related Content

Coronavirus – African Union Member States (54) reporting COVID-19 cases (112,290) deaths (3,359), and recoveries (44,920)

African Union Member States (54) reporting COVID-19 cases (112,290) deaths (3,359), and recoveries (44,920) by region: Central (11,906 cases; 340 deaths; 3,094 recoveries): Burundi (42; 1; 20), Cameroon (4,890; 165; 1,865), Central African Republic (604; 1; 22), Chad (675; 60; 215), Congo (487; 16; 147), DRC (2,297; 67; 337), Equatorial Guinea (719; 7; 22), Gabon (1,934; 12; 459), Sao Tome & Principe (258; 11; 7). Eastern (12,291; 332; 3,295): Comoros (87; 1; 21), Djibouti (2,270; 10; 1,064

Coronavirus – Zimbabwe: COVID-19 update, 24 May 2020

Download logoHighlights of the situation report Two (2) new recoveries were reported from Harare. 282 RDT screening tests and 219 PCR diagnostic tests were done. The cumulative number of tests done to date is 37039 (21484 RDT and 15555 PCR). To date the total number of confirmed cases remains at 56; recovered 25, active cases 27 and 4 deaths, since the onset of the outbreak on 20 March 2020. Number of Tests Done Number of Confirmed Cases Number R

Coronavirus: African Union Member States reporting COVID-19 cases As of 25 May 2020, 9am EAT

Central (11,416 cases; 334 deaths; 3,051 recoveries): Burundi (42; 1; 20),Cameroon (4,400; 159; 1,822), Central African Republic (604; 1; 22), Chad (675; 60; 215), Congo (487; 16; 147), DRC (2,297; 67; 337), Equatorial Guinea (719; 7; 22), Gabon (1,934; 12; 459), Sao Tome & Principe (258; 11; 7) Eastern (12,189; 332; 3,283): Comoros (87; 1; 21), Djibouti (2,270; 10; 1,064), Eritrea (39; 0; 39), Ethiopia (582; 5; 152), Kenya (1,214; 51; 383), Madagascar (527; 2; 142), Mauritius (334; 10; 322),

Coronavirus – African Union Member States (54) reporting COVID-19 cases (108,109) deaths (3,260), and recoveries (42,937)

African Union Member States (54) reporting COVID-19 cases (108,109) deaths (3,260), and recoveries (42,937) by region: Central (11,180 cases; 330 deaths; 3,016 recoveries): Burundi (42; 1; 20), Cameroon (4,400; 159; 1,822), Central African Republic (552; 1; 18), Chad (648; 60; 204), Congo (487; 16; 147), DRC (2,140; 63; 317), Equatorial Guinea (719; 7; 22), Gabon (1,934; 12; 459), Sao Tome & Principe (258; 11; 7). Eastern (11,984; 313; 3,236): Comoros (78; 1; 18), Djibouti (2,270; 10; 1,064

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

How COVID-19 impacts the health & well-being of children

Research shows that children have a lower rate of contracting the Coronavirus and bringing infections to the household. This should provide comfort to South African parents that are in two minds about sending their kids back to school next week, when physical teaching is set to resume. Epidemiologist, Dr Boshoff Steenekamp joins CNBC Africa for more.

Rebosis rolls out COVID-19 testing stations outside malls

Property Group Rebosis, has partnered with government to roll out testing stations for Covid-19 outside its shopping malls in Pretoria – South Africa’s capital. However, foot traffic into these malls is expected to have dived due to the virus lock-downs prevented non-essential stores from trading. Rebosis is yet to release its interim results. Rebosis CEO Sisa Ngebulana joins CNBC Africa for more.

Distell CEO: What the sale of alcohol under level 3 means for the industry

South Africans can look forward to popping their favourite bottle of bubbly or sipping on a glass of pinotage to warm up from the cold winter. That’s as alcohol sales, that were banned for over two months under the Covid-19 lock-down, will be lifted. Distell CEO Richard Rushton joins CNBC Africa for more.

This Rwandan publisher is creating buzz with new book App

After realising the challenges that come with publishing fellow African writers, home-grown publishing house, Imagine We Rwanda launched their very own mobile app, dubbed, Imagine Books. Fast forward 2 weeks and hundreds of titles have been purchased worldwide and the numbers are only going up. CNBC Africa spoke to the founder, Dominique Alonga for more.

Partner Content

VIVO CEO is a dynamic leader for this innovative global brand

May 2020 -- Six months ago the vision for vivo in South Africa was just beginning to...

Building Africa’s Biggest Digital Classroom

An enduring lesson learnt throughout our 175-year existence is that, while things rapidly change around us, the things that truly matter don’t!...

Trending Now

What Happens To Frequent Flyer Miles If An Airline Goes Bankrupt?

With U.S. passenger traffic down by 90%, airlines are desperate to fill seats and are offering big incentives to keep their most reliable customers loyal. But what happens to frequent flyer miles when almost no one is flying and can an airline loyalt

How The Medical Device Supply Chain Failed During Covid-19

More than three months into the coronavirus pandemic, health-care workers on the front-lines of the battle against Covid-19 say they still face shortages of personal protective equipment. The personal protective shortage was one of the early flashpoi

Tsogo Sun Hotels FY profits plunge, COVID-19 lock-downs weigh

Hospitality Group Tsogo Sun Hotels reported a 31 per cent plunge in full year headline earnings per share, with Covid-19 resulting in demand from international tourist retracting in the fourth quarter, due to global lock-downs.

Nampak swings into H1 loss, suffers R3bn impairment

Nampak swung to a half year loss of R2.4 billion as revenue plunged and it impaired its Angola and Nigeria assets by R3 billion, which is four times its market value. The also warned that future profits were in South Africa were at risk from the ban on alcohol sales due to Covid-19 lock-downs. Nampak CEO, Erik Smuts joins CNBC Africa for more.
- Advertisement -