Thousands of music fans, friends and relatives bid farewell to the legendary South African Afro jazz legend and music icon Ray Phiri on Saturday (yesterday) in Mbombela, Mpumalanga Province in South Africa where he was buried.

The Stimela front-man‚ whose music spanned four decades‚ was accorded a special provincial funeral by the South African government.

As a result the national flag flew at half-mast throughout Mpumalanga Province.

The service began with the singing of the national anthem‚ followed by a musical tribute by Grammy award winners Lady Smith Black Mambazo.

Among those attended the funeral was music icon Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse‚ who paid special tribute to his long-time friend and fellow musician whom he worked with for over 40 years.

Mabuse said Phiri’s exuberant laughter belied his pain as expressed in all the songs he wrote.

Other artists described Phiri as a “sterling artistic genius”.

Phiri was a music legend and a performer with a prolific and a touching talent that gave joy to millions of people for many years with his inimitable and dancing style.

The funeral service was attended by several South African government officials who included speaker of the national assembly Baleka Mbete and South Africa’s Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa.

Phiri first came to Zimbabwe in 1980s with Paul Simon and Lady Smith Black Mambazo where he showcased his talent on the Graceland Concert at Rufaro Stadium.

Locally, Phiri worked with Louis Mhlanga and the late jazz drummer Jethro Shasha.

He was to return in 2013 where he performed at a private function with Stimela, courtesy of the South African Embassy.

Among his popular tunes include ‘Whispers In The Deep’, ‘African Changes’, ‘Unfinished Story’,  ‘Look, Listen and Decide’ and ‘Zwakala’.

Phiri sat on the board of the National Arts Council of South Africa where from its onset he pushed an agenda of transformation in the arts.

He was the chairperson of the Mpumalanga Provincial Arts Council and founder of Ray Phiri Arts Institute in Kanyamazane township.

Phiri died last Wednesday at the age of 70 at a hospital in Mbombela after losing a battle to lung cancer.