Wela Matomela

Jazz and Gospel Musician

Wela Matomela is a well known and revered jazz vocalist, drummer and pianist from the Eastern Cape. He has been performing since the 1960’s and continues to be a notable musician in the Eastern Cape community today. Wela was born in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape in 1949.

He taught himself to play the pennywhistle in the late 1950’s, after being inspired by kwela music exponents like Spokes Mashiyane, Lemmy Mabaso and the Alexander Black Mambazo. In 1961, a young Wela started to sing in a vocal jazz group emulating American groups like Four Fresh Men, Hi-Los and Delta Rhythm Boys.

During the 1970’s, Matomela linked up with some influential musicians, which helped to propel his musical career. In 1970, he enrolled at Lovedale teachers college, where he met Vuyelwa Qwesha, who later became prominent as an actor and singer in a Gibson Kente-style musical play that Matomela had written.

While visiting Fort Hare University, Matomela met Duke Ngcukana, a trumpet player who was looking for instrumentalists to form a band. They joined up and went on to form The Village Arts Quartet with Matomela playing the drums. Fezile Wotshela, an SABC producer, heard the band and arranged Matomela’s first recording session.

In 1971 Ngcukana invited Matomela to visit his home in Cape Town. Here he met and collaborated with local jazz legends Victor Ntoni, Buggs Gongco, Timmy Kwebulana, Cups Nkanuka, Danayi Dlova and Max Dayimani. In 1974, he joined the famous band The Soul Jazzmen, in Port Elizabeth, as a vocalist, drummer and pianist.

This band became well known after a couple of TV appearances and SABC recordings. In 1985 Matomela took an interest in gospel music. He met musician Patrick Phasha and together they approached Vuyelwa Qwesha-Luzipho to form a band. They called themselves The Loving Waters, which also became successful with a few appearances on local TV shows and multiple recordings with the SABC.

After The Loving Waters disbanded, Matomela formed a choir comprising of young people called The Fellowship Choir. Local stars Loyiso Bala, Asanda Bam, Nomhle Magudu and Sylvester Funani came from this choir and rose to prominence in the South African music industry.

The choir has appeared on local TV shows and have made a recording with a record company in Port Elizabeth. Today, Matomela is still a prominent musician in Port Elizabeth. More recently he has become involved with jazz group Welaz Kabah, which he formed with his son Khanya Matomela. He has two albums with this group - Endikindeni and Intaba ka Vuba.

By Kwezi Kobus & Carla Lottering