Stimela is a South African Afro-fusion band, founded during the 1970s when the late Ray Phiri, a self-taught guitarist, got together with drummer Isaac Mtshali, keyboard player Lloyd Lelosa and bassist Jabu Sibumbe.

Ray and Isaac came from a group called The Cannibals while Jabu and Lloyd came from The Movers, two groups that were well known at the time.  The Cannibals initially started out as instrumentalists, and later evolved to Afro-soul when they joined forces with vocalist Jacob “Mpharanyana” Radebe in 1975 as his backing band, continuing to work with him until his passing.

The band kept going after Radebe passed away, eventually changing their name to Stimela after the merging of the two sets of musicians (Isaac and Ray together with Lloyd and Jabu) subsequent to a life changing experience for the Cannibals in Mozambique where they were stranded in Maputo for three months. At that time, they had to sell all their belongings to take a train back home. This trip was a watershed moment to them as this was how the new name for the band, Stimela was conceived, a direct Nguni translation for train.

Naturally, the name change signalled a new era for the band, also in terms of growth, which saw the band also roping in new members such as Thapelo Khomo (keyboards), Ntokozo Zungu (guitar), Charlie Ndlovu (keyboards) as well as Nana Coyote on vocals. Later in the years, the band introduced Sandile Ngema and much later on Bafana Khuzwayo, as they continued in their quest to develop and expose younger talent.

With soulful tunes and gripping lyrics, the band recorded platinum-winning albums like Fire, Passion and Ecstasy, followed by thought provoking songs such as Look, Listen and Decide; the epic Shadows, Fear and Pain (an album out of which the song Zwakala was taken); Go On Living Your Life as well as the soul stirring See the World Through The Eyes of the Child. One of their most memorable tracks Whispers in the Deep was restricted for broadcast by the old South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Stimela has, over the years suffered tragedies with the loss of some of their key members. The likes of Charlie Ndlovu and Bafana Khuzwayo. It was the tragic passing of one of South Africa’s greatest vocalists, Nana Coyote that led to Ray recruiting Sam Ndlovu to join Stimela as a lead singer. A somewhat prophetic decision in that it enabled Ray to mentor Sam for what no one could have foreseen at the time, his own (Ray’s) untimely passing in July of 2017.

Out of all the setbacks that the band has had to go through, Ray’s passing was a devastating blow and threatened to derail the Train abruptly. The band however, dusted themselves up after such a catastrophic tragedy that could have seen lesser bands vanish, and went into the studio to come up with a brilliant and captivating 10-track album entitled Catch the train.

The album, while a fitting tribute to one of South Africa’s greatest songwriters, producers and performers, clearly sets Stimela apart in a class of their own. A display of the band’s depth and wealth of creativity and understanding of their path and craft. It is also the last album that Mnca Mtshali played on. Mtshali collapsed and passed away at his home in August 2019, another heavy setback to the band just as they were beginning to make a recovery from the loss they suffered with the passing of Ray in 2017.

The Train is steaming on with greater conviction and resolve… Catch The Train!