Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bakithi Kumalo

Bakithi Kumalo, Bassist for Paul Simon since the Graceland album, gave a free clinic on his unique bass-playing techniques at Schmitt Music Store in Burnsville, Minnesota. Bakithi is playing with Paul Simon Monday, May 2nd in Minneapolis. I went with my sister, nephew, and grand-niece, and I had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful man and musician.

Bakithi has played with many other well known artists, such as Herbie Hancock, and Cindy Lauper.

Bakithi told his story about meeting Paul Simon the first time for the Graceland album. He described how his clothes were worn out and dirty from his job, his shoes were six years old; the neck of his bass was warped and the strings were high off the fret board and there were blood stains on it. But he impressed Simon with his playing, and Simon eventually bought him new gear, and paid him $5,000 for the first day of recording. Bakithi then called his boss and told him he would not be returning to work.

Bakithi did excellent work on the Graceland album, of which Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, and You Can Call Me Al are the most notable. He is most proud of his work on the former, and of course, most of us are very familiar with the terrific bass solo on the latter.

He was also an incredibly gracious and humble man to meet. At the end of his presentation, I introduced myself to him as a bass player, and asked him what other albums besides the Graceland album would show case his bass playing well. I wanted to find out which albums I could learn the best from him. But instead of touting his own playing, he said twice, "any South African music will have great bass playing for you to hear."

Bakithi seemed very approachable, and was really good with the kids who came to see him. One can tell he is a good and patient teacher. He gave his miniature bass to my nephew to play, but my nephew, who can play, was too shy. Bakithi was very patient with him, and drew him out of his shell and got him to play just a little bit. 

I asked him during the Q&A what other bass players he admired most, and he said, "anyone, whether they are 10 or 50, who plays the bass." We pressed him a little on the question, and he did finally give some predictable names, such as Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, and Ron Carter. However, his first answer seemed very genuine and to come from his heart. But he also mentioned that Stanley Clarke asked him for some lessons! 

Bakithi is an amazing bassist. He is a gentle soul, a delight to see and hear play bass and tell his life story. A native of Soweto, South Africa, he now lives in the United States with his wife and children.

Visit his web site at: Bakithi Kumalo

You can order or download Bakithi's music here.

Here are some videos of Bakithi's bass technique:

South African Bass Line:

You Can Call Me Al solo:

Bass Tap:

Bass Slap 1:

Bass Slap 2:

Bass Slap 3:

Bass Slap 4:

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