Top guitarist has high hopes for Bay music scene

Lawrence Matshiza
Lawrence Matshiza
Image: Londeka Dlamini

He has been on world stages and produced award-winning music for some of SA's most legendary artists, yet no achievement is too small to celebrate for 59-year-old Port Elizabeth guitarist Lawrence Matshiza.

Regarded as one of the Bay's legendary musicians, Matshiza's latest accolade — an award for Best Lead Guitarist at the Backing Vocalists and Session Musicians Awards — has reignited his passion to serve the city's music scene wholeheartedly.

The award, in early March, was neither Matshiza's first nor biggest achievement, with the award-winning producer having worked with the likes of jazz legend Hugh Masekela, Ringo Madlingozi, Judith Sephuma, Siphokazi, Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among other greats.

“Winning the BVSM award makes me want to write and produce more and more artists, especially in Port Elizabeth, as I spent more than 35 years outside the city. My dream is that Port Elizabeth grow and be recognised globally for its talented musicians.

“I would also love to see this city with enough music schools and recording studios to nurture its talent,” Matshiza said.

Born into a family of musicians — his father was a drummer and his mother a singer — Matshiza got his first guitar made from a cooking oil tin at the age of nine.

He was later invited to Johannesburg by the late playwright Gibson Kente to join one of his productions.

“By then I was developing more love for music and my instrument (guitar). From there I joined a group called The Spirits Rejoice with the likes of Mr Duke Makasi, George Tyefumani from PE and Sipho Gumede, and we backed a female band which was called Joy in their hit song, Paradise Road,” Matshiza said.

He honed his skill with the help of the musicians who surrounded him until he joined Wits University’s Harmony and Instrument classes.

“After that, I decided to form another band called Thetha with Vusi Khumalo, Bakithi Khumalo, Bushy Seathlolo and so on, [and we performed] alongside other bands like Stimela,” he said.

After doing some TV work, Matshiza returned to PE in 1987 to co-establish the first record label in the Eastern Cape, producing untapped talent such as Loyiso Bala and Phinda Mtya.

He has written music for the legendary Harry Belafonte and other stars he has worked with include the Manhattan Brothers, Patti Austin, Cyndi Lauper, Andy Narell, Peabo Bryson, Frank McComb, Paul Simon, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbuli and Gregory Porter.

In 2010, Matshiza worked with John Legend and Ray Parker Jr during the 2010 World Cup Concert.

The musician is now based in his hometown permanently and works with local artists in the Bay.