Ray Chikapa Phiri sang of joy and pain.

On 12 July, 2017 lung cancer snuffed out the light that shone so brightly and extraordinarily hot.

It smothered a fire that sung with passion, innovation and thoughtfulness. These three adjectives crisply portray who and what Ray ‘Chikapa’ Phiri was. It is what he gave to millions of his fans and it will linger in our memories.

The pure clout of Chikapa’s creative sparks stood the test of time and even broke new ground and smashed earlier sound barriers.

An old man trapped in a young man’s body, as he used to say, Chikapa meant a lot of things to different people. Together with Stimela, they created a music catalogue that will forever take up prime space in the archives, hearts and souls of South Africans, Africans and internationally.

I am tempted to list the songs that enabled us to deal with the tyranny and devastating consequences of apartheid’s industrial scale hatred, but they are too many to mention.

An immensely well-regarded guitarist, producer, songwriter and arranger, Chikapa was never afraid to express himself unreservedly through his creative vision and valiant conviction.

An indubitable virtuoso guitarist and an innovative musician, Chikapa’s songs were deeply reflective of the state of a trampled and traumatised people.

The quality of Stimela’s musical, lyrical content, most of which was penned by Chikapa, and the messages it conveys has an intense effect on anyone who is not tone-deaf.

Having grown up on Stimela’s music, I think I am at liberty to say Chikapa was a philosopher who extracted his material for his songs from the whole gist of people’s experiences. He threw it all in a scotching hot pot and then distilled it into serialised portraits in musical form.

There was nothing vague or distant about his philosophy, he drank thirstily from the dynamism of life itself. This explains why he was able to let his music tell the story of a nation that in many ways is described through words that denote failure, a people perceived as scums of the earth, worthless and as a blithering basket case with no hope of deliverance.

There is so much incredible music created by Chikapa, that each day, one is driven to play as much as they can to celebrate the life of a real genius of his artistry. Truthfully. There is no other way to put it.

For you to understand and hear just how expressive Chikapa was to the people, listen to his absolutely candid composition, Rubbing Sand In My Eyes.

Rubbing Sand In My Eyes from Stimela’s 1987 album, Unfinished Story, is a testimony to his outstanding creativity and arrangement technique that flows through the entire song and its lyrics.

“You’re rubbing sand in my eyes/ You speak half-truths and lies/ You don’t answer any of my whys/ You’re are rubbing sand in my eyes.”

– Thousands of schools still use pit toilets (File Pic_AP Photo)

You are rubbing sand into our eyes because for 28 years, multitudes of the wretched are still weighed down by high levels of poverty. You refuse answer why, after all these years, the state of wastewater and sewage treatment management is deteriorating…and in some places there is no water and proper sanitation.

You speak half-truths and lies when we want to know why is our country the most unequal in the world.

When we want to know why the dream of 1994 has been deferred, all we get are “empty speeches like hot air balloons”.

In its January 8 Statement, the governing party’s National Executive Committee blurted: “We will put in place mechanisms to process any parts of the commission report that pertain to the organisation, its deployees or members and consider how the commission’s recommendations can help enhance the fundamental renewal and rebuilding of our movement.

“Our mission has always been to serve the people of this great nation and ensure that a better life for all steadily but surely becomes a lived reality. Even in this difficult environment, we can and must do more, better and faster,” they promised, not for the first time.

“So much garbage, so many lies/ You’re rubbing sand into our eyes.”

The citizens are of no importance because the party and its infinite squabbles, sees itself as more important than the state and the socio-economic struggles that have come to shape the landscape of our lives.

“We must therefore intensify our work to restore the relevance, capability and credibility of the ANC so that it continues to be an effective force for transformation.

“The lodestars of our journey of social transformation are to be found in the Freedom Charter and our country’s Constitution and the plans developed over the years to attain the lofty ideals they espouse. That is what defines the movement’s unique relevance in the current age.”

Oh, Mvelinqangi, “Mother nature is weeping because the truth has gone astray.”

In his acerbic column, My Take, Mbangwa Xaba says, “We are a nation in dire straits, we can ill-afford mummified stooges in town halls’ power corridors. With no water, intermittent electricity supply, swimming pool size potholes, sewerage flowing on the streets and a dejected people, you can’t be quiet; NO!”

Please, “stop rubbing sand into our eyes”.

“Child wants to know. WHY! / Ngwana o batla ho tseba, ngwana o batla ho notcha…”

The child wants to know why he/she has to go to a school that is under-resourced.

The child wants to know why has the government declared education as the main budget priority, but keeps making the choice to spend less and less thereof on education, despite the fact that the number of children enrolled in school has been increasing.

It has become clear that we are governed by people with “Swollen minds without hearts, so misguided…”

The councillors who were voted into power last November are at each other’s throats and the people have been thrown into the bottom of a murky well.

Let me rephrase Chikapa’s song, “Mother nature is weeping for the people’s dignity that has been forgotten…”

From the load-shedding endemic, to high unemployment rates and the ever-growing beast of inequality, they “keep rubbing sand into our eyes”.

If the silly tunes of lies and half-truths continue to be blasted through the radio, people are highly likely to take off the broken wheels of our democracy and push the car down a cliff.

This is because, “Now we’re stuck in rhythm and at pains to break loose…”

The message from Rubbing Sand In My Eyes also begets the multitudes to never give up but fight on until they are victorious: “It’s the echoes of tomorrow which make today worthwhile/ And it’s the memories of yesterday, which give us strength to try and try again – because in the circle of time, there’s no use in moaning”.

All you so-called powerful people, as you plot your next move to topple your opponents, take heed of these words from Whispers In The Deep: “Call me angry, call me mad/ A soul that whispers in the deep/But echoes all throughout the land/Reaches out to find a hand/But finds an amputated stump…”

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