Bakithi Kumalo

If you were a hard working bass player in 1986 – which I was, then you were especially blown away by Paul Simon’s Graceland – which was a showcase for the fretless mastery of Bakithi Kumalo. Great songs often make for great bass lines, and the compositions and melodies for which Mr. Simon is mostly credited for are an astonishing meld of American pop and South African music.

Every track and every performance on this masterpiece is breathtaking, yet the bass line and solo many of us attempted to transcribe was from the hit single/video “You Can Call Me Al” which is actually a studio splice: the opening motif was recorded as is, and the closing phrase is actually the opening motif in reverse.

Of course, in those days, the internet did not exist – hence hours of frustration in trying to replicate this wicked lick! Nearly thirty years after the historic sessions were released, Kumalo’s legato lines and harmonies peppered with funk and Afro Beat rhythms on such tracks as “Boy In The Bubble,” “Graceland,” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” still radiate. Bakithi Kumalo continues to tour with Simon and has an impressive catalog of solo releases and collaborations with Herbie Hancock and Micky Hart among others.

To my ears, Graceland – with Kumalo’s brilliance on the key tracks -rates among the most significant recorded works in pop / jazz / world music history akin to Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Sgt. Pepper, the collected works of Fela Kuti and Milton Nascimento, In the Wee Small Hours, Heavy Weather, Pet Sounds, and Dark Side of the Moon, to cite a few. If the bass playing of Bakithi Kumalo does not move you – have someone check your pulse – you may be dead!