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 bandmembers 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.
Stimela is the tale of a South African band who have battled their way through dark days to take their rightful place in the forefront of the South African apartheid-era music invasion. One of their most memorable tracks “Whispers in the Deep” was even restricted from being broadcasted by the old South African Broadcasting Corporation.
On the album we are presenting you today (Fire, Passion and Ecstasy from 1984) the unique sounds of Ray Phiri’s Stimela are fully showcased. Expect infectious hypnotic build-up grooves, cinematic lowdown jazz-funk, Afro-soul, delightful reggae, gospel influences and funky synth-boogie sounds…all with a touch of early eighties new wave and hints of Island disco mixed with sensual bubblegum pop. It comes as no surprise that the album has now become a sought-after item due to its addictive and original-sounding nature, a must-have for any self-respecting record digger!
These recordings completely encapsulate Stimela’s fusion style. They managed to craft a modern South African sound that continues to influence SA musicians to this day. Never in a rush, yet always with a sense of purpose and direction – like the steam train after which they took their name.
Tidal Waves Music now proudly presents the first reissue of this fantastic Afro-fusion classic since 1990 (originally released in 1984 on Gallo Records) & this is also the first time the album is getting a release outside of the African continent. This rare record (original copies tend to go for large amounts on the secondary market) is now finally back available as a limited 180g vinyl edition (limited to 500 copies) complete with the original artwork. Also included is a double-sided insert containing rare pictures of the band.