StarGazing: Bakithi Kumalo
Friday, 24 november 2006.
By Lea Clash
What is an electric bass? According to the American Century Dictionary, it is an instrument pitched lowest in its family. The word used as an adjective means lowest in musical pitch. The electric bass is also called an electric bass guitar. The electric bass guitar is an electrically amplified fingered string instrument similar in appearance to an electric guitar, but larger in body, a longer neck and scale length, usually with four strings tuned an octave lower in pitch. The electric bass is used as a soloing instrument in jazz, fusion, Latin and fun styles.
An album of electric bass guitar music designed, created and played from the heart, featuring smooth jazz, vocals and a touch of South Africa. That is what you would be listening to, if you pick up a copy of Bakithi Kumalo´s latest CD, ´Transmigration,´ on Guru project. While he has been traveling throughout the globe with Paul Simon, I caught up with the renowned and highly acclaimed musical artist on the telephone, and we talked about his newest project, ´Transmigration´.
Kumalo lives in Long Island, New York with his wife and two daughters. He grew up in Soweto Township outside Johannesburg, South Africa. Surrounded by music as a seven year old, he filled in for the bassist in his uncle´s band. Therefore, Kumalo´s bass playing history began at home. He says, ´there were bands on every block of my neighborhood. Plus, my mother sang in the church choir with my uncle and there were always band rehearsals at my house.´
So at an early age, Kumalo became a professional bass player in his uncle´s band.
But, living life in apartheid South Africa was difficult and posed many challenges.
Therefore, Kumalo learned many life lessons and was acutely aware that building his career was not going to be simple. As a pre-teen, he hit the road without telling his parents. Throughout the months that followed, he was stranded, homeless and almost killed surviving only through his music, and a few gigs here and there. This ordeal resulted in tremendous weight loss, and unable to afford a haircut, his tresses were extremely long. When he returned to South Africa, his mother, who never really knew where he had gone and just assumed he had disappeared like so many other young South African men, didn´t even recognize him.
Then a miracle happened in his life. One day while looking for work, a producer friend introduced him to Paul Simon, whose music he was unfamiliar with. Kumalo was nervous meeting the music icon, but Simon immediately gravitated to Kumalo´s bass style. Kumalo created a singular electric fretless bass sound that teems with double stops that sound like human voices and the African grooves of his homeland.
The rest is history.
Kumalo has garnered himself a stellar reputation. In addition to touring with Simon, he´s also recorded and/or toured with Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan, Harry Belafonte, Gerald Albright, Miriam Makeba, Cyndi Lauper, Josh Groban and Chris Botti. His work on ´Graceland´ which was selected in 1986 as Grammy Album of the Year, led him to work on Randy Becker´s ´Into the Sun´ a 1997 Grammy Award winner and Herbie Hancock´s ´Gershwin´s World´ a 1998 Grammy Award winner.
´I´m excited,´ he explained on the phone. My new album is different than anything I have done in the past. But, I believe it is the best record that I´ve done in many years and it took me 3-4 years to finish this project.´
´I really had to go inside my heart,´ he continues, ´to complete this project´.
´I have come to realized that my music comes from what´s inside of me, and I tell this to students all the time. Don´t play music just for the money, but do it from the inside of you...from what´s in your heart. That´s why...this record is me. On this project, I show the other side of me, my bass style and I showcase the wide range of music that moves me.´
Chris Pati who also performs throughout the album produces Kumalo´s new album ´Transmigration´. ´Every track is very different, says Kumalo, who in addition to bass plays keyboards, drums and a variety of percussion instruments. Songs on this album are a pleasing reminder of why Kumalo decided to pursue a career in music in the first place when he was a child. Songs on this album he said, ´are my way of saying I´m going home now.´