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Stimela were a popular and successful South African Afro-fusion outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, producer and arranger Ray Phiri. The band was formed under the name ‘The Cannibals’ during the 1970s when Phiri got together with drummer Isaac Mtshali, keyboard player Thabo Lloyd Lelosa and bass player Jabu Sibumbe. They initially started out as instrumentalists, but later evolved to Afro-fusion when they joined forces with vocalist Jacob “Mparanyana” Radebe in 1975. The story of ‘The Cannibals’ ends when Radebe died in 1978 but the ‘Stimela’ story was only just beginning. In 1979, after a life-changing experience in Mozambique (where they were stranded for three months) the band members had to sell all their belongings to take a train home.

This trip was a watershed moment as it was here where they conceived the new name for the band: The Zulu word for “locomotive-train” Stimela. Stimela would soon become little short of an institution in their home country of South Africa. With soulful tunes and gripping lyrics, the band has recorded platinum-winning albums such as Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, Shadows, Fear and Pain & Look Listen and Decide. In addition to recording their own material, the group supplied instrumental accompaniment on albums by a lengthy list of legendary artists. Stimela would go on to gain global fame after being featured on Paul Simon’s iconic 1986 ‘Graceland’ album and the mega tour that followed. Ray Phiri would enter into many successful collaborations with major acts and artists such as Harari, Joan Baez, Willie Nelson and Manu Dibango. In 2017 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died at the age of 70. Phiri has received many awards in recognition for his contribution in the music industry, one of these is the Order of Ikhamanga awarded to him by the South African president. This was to honor his sterling contribution to the South African music industry and the successful use of arts as an instrument of social transformation.
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