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Ray Phiri dies; bandleader played on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’

Jazz singer Ray Phiri performs at the Durban

Jazz singer Ray Phiri performs at the Durban Hazelmere Dam Jazz Festival in Durban, South Africa, in December 2006. The renowned South African singer, guitarist and composer died on July 12, 2017. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / RAJESH JANTILAL

JOHANNESBURG — Ray Phiri, a South African jazz musician who founded the band Stimela and became internationally known while performing on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, died of cancer on Wednesday at age 70.

Phiri, a vocalist and guitarist known for his versatility in jazz fusion, indigenous South African rhythms and other styles, received many music awards in his home country. His death was met with nationwide tributes.

“He was a musical giant. This is indeed a huge loss for South Africa and the music industry as a whole,” President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.

Political parties also expressed condolences, saying Phiri’s songs resonated among many South Africans, particularly during the era of white minority rule that ended in 1994.

“An immensely gifted composer, vocalist and guitarist, he breathed consciousness and agitated thoughts of freedom through his music,” said the ruling African National Congress party, which was the main movement against apartheid until it took power in the country’s first all-race elections.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said many people grew up with Phiri’s music. “In the 1970s, Phiri’s music spoke to issues that are still affecting our people today,” the party said.

Stimela’s best-known albums include “Fire, Passion and Ecstasy” and “Look, Listen and Decide,” and Phiri contributed as a guitarist to Simon’s “Graceland” album in the 1980s. The album evolved from Simon’s interest in indigenous South African music.

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