Thursday 15 October 2009

Phiri: An eternal musical

Now here is a special and rare musical treat with a topical message for today’s times.
Phiri is Barney Simon’s African “Volpone” – a 1972 musical about the richest people and the poorest people in Soweto. Add Wally Serote to the co-writing team, and then mix four months of intensive musical composition input from Mackay Davashe and Cyril Magubane (Heshoo Beshoo Group - who will appear on EJ) … and then bring in a stellar band with three of the Heshoo Beshoo Group, Mackay Davashe and Barney Rachabane… and you have a cracker of a production.

Phiri is the richest and most mischievous villain and swindler in Soweto. He pretends to be on his deathbed, desperate for a wife and heir to his riches – attracting a long line of people bringing bribes to Phiri’s side-kick Mutla to win the favour of becoming the heir. Wealthy shebeen-queen Mamabele (Sophie Mgcina) is pregnant and decides she is tired of ‘having bastards’, and a half-dead man suits her fine. Phiri’s plan is to have his will read at his coffin – leave everything to Mutla – and then to leap out of the coffin and chase all the expectant bribers away with a sjambok (whip). The plan misfires when Mamabele brings a police sergeant to the reading of the will. Phiri stays in the coffin in fear of the trouble he will get into – and later has to run off to one of the homelands, while Mutla shares Phiri’s wealth with the people on the street. You can read more about the basic plot of the original 1606 Ben Johnson play “Volpone” here.
Cyril Magubane: Guitar
Mackay Davashe – Tenor Sax
Nelson Magwaza – Drums
Ernest Mothle – Bass
Barney Rachabane – Alto Sax, Flute
Zachariah Ntsele – Trumpet
Themba Koyani – Baritone Sax

1. Klink of Khooza (apologies for the jump on starting)
2. Mamabele - Sophie Mgcina
3. Twilight
4. Money Makes Madness
5. H.P. Blues
6. Who’s Earth is This
7. Choo Cha (Black Mamba)
8. Leeba’s Dance
9. Madam Please
10. In this our World
11. See these hands
Musical Director: Mackay Davashe
CBS ASF 1652


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great great album. I am trying to get it re-issued. Looking for: anyone who might have the rights to it, a near-perfect vinyl copy from which a new master could be (expensively) made. the album is so wonderful and deep, and should not be lost to memory if possible...

  3. any chance of a reup? thanks

  4. The download link has been updated.

    1. Hi Chris, im trying to download from the link but it doesnt want to open, u dont have perhaps another link where i can download it from? please advise

    2. Hi Rodney - I have just tested the link - it works fine - click on the green download bar, save it to wherever on your computer you want to .. once you have the zip file in your folder, right click on it and unzip it - good luck

  5. hi Chris, i downloaded from the link you updated but after downloading i cant seems to open it, perhaps have another link or format as to where and how i can download?

  6. Hi Rodney - ask someone to show you how to unzip folders .. you right click on the downloaded folder and "unpack" all the mp3 files will emerge

  7. Hi Chris. Do you know who holds the rights to the music in this recording? I'm making a documentary about SA's cultural landscape in the 70 and may want to include a song from Phiri.

    1. Hi Sifiso. I wish you well in your documentary process. The issue of ownership rights is a complex one that I could not get to the bottom of. Of course, the composers or their families would be due something. The master tape rights are not so clear as master tapes from this era were traded and loaned amongst companies. Perhaps the family of Barney Simon might have an idea?


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