CUEPIX/ Kate Janse van Rensburg
RAY Phiri, 68, turned entertainment into performance art when he took to the stage of the National Arts Festival with two cracked ribs and a broken heart.
A crammed 800-seat Guy Butler Theatre audience of fans of the legendary mbaqanqa composer and performer went still when, after Phiri delivered a wobbly but sublime blues number through which he grabbed his side and missed some of the notes.
Critter was in the front row, only metres away from Phiri, dressed in hip black with a cap, and saw tears streaming from his eyes.
It was clear something was wrong, and soon after Phiri, who called for tissues to dry his eyes and mop his face, left the stage, leaving his wide-eyed supporting band to cover with extended solos.
But Phiri returned and told a shocked audience that four days before his sold-out festival anchor show, he had fallen and broken two ribs.
His voice cracked as the then said he was also suffering the death of his wife two weeks ago.
Festival organisers later said they were unsure if Phiri would make an appearance for his gig, but the maestro of mbaqanqa did not let his fans down.
“You can do it Ray!” some shouted as the crowd picked Phiri up and urged him to deliver one of the most poignant but edgy seen at the festival.
Tea and a chair were brought for him, and at one point he leaned down on the stage while egging on his band members and keeled over onto the stage while hanging onto a speaker.
Aides rushed to his help from the wing
Phiri, who earlier spoke of being in agony and hinted that a picture of him performing at the show could be one of the last, thanked the audience for giving him strength and energy to get through.
It was torture to watch especially from so close, and how do we acknowledge the dark feeling that somehow, this was one of the great performances?