Bakithi Kumalo: Paul Simon’s Legendary Bass Player

Bakithi-Kumalo

I’m Going To Graceland

Bakithi Kumalo was born in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa. He was surrounded by relatives who loved music and actively performed for all of his youth. He purchased his first fretless bass, a Washburn B-40 model, because it was the cheapest bass in the store because no one wanted to play it. With that bass, he played his first got a gig at the age of seven. Filling in playing bass in his uncles band. Kumalo made a real name for himself in the years to come. He worked as a session bass player during the 70s and 80s in South Africa. Eventually, Kumalo became one of the most sought after session bass players. He would often accompany international performers during their South African tours. Nowadays Bathiki uses Phil Jones Bass.

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You Can Call Me Al

Jumping to 1985, Kumalo was introduced to Paul Simon by producer Hendrick Lebone during the sessions that would become Simon’s Graceland album. From these sessions came many noteworthy and memorable songs and bass lines, including the infamous Call Me Al. Kumalo than traveled with Simon to New York to finish the sessions. After the accompanying tour, he spent years commuting between Soweto and New York City. He would later permanently settle in the United States. Since meeting Paul, the two have regularly toured together. Beside playing with Paul Simon, he has also released several solo records, and continued to perform as a session musician with numerous other artists. Artists such as Joan Baez, Cyndi Lauper, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Mickey Hart and Herbie Hancock.

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Bakithi’s Playing Style

With a ferocious signature playing style, he seamlessly blends elements several different genres. From Motown and jazz to traditional South African music. As if the combination of genres wasn’t impressive enough, his technique is on a level of its own. His lines will typically include inverted broken arpeggios, quick pentatonic lines, and counter melodies. Also using slap bass, dead notes, octave hiccups, double stops and triplets. Naturally, a signature style needs a signature tone, which is why Bakithi uses the Phil Jones Bass Roadcase BG800 Amp.

This amp offers a small footprint with powerful output with two channels, one acoustic and one electric. With 750W this amp has the headroom to play any stage. Bakithi’s influences are clearly heard in his playing style. The likes of Jaco Pastorius, Alphonso Johnson, and James Jamerson are important early influences. Paul Simon has described Kumalo’s signature sound on bass as being enormous and almost sounding like a horn, and sounding very primal.

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