Bass player pays it forward

How one man is inspiring a love of music for the next generation

By Jon Liebman
Week of May 18, 2020

This week, we published a great interview with my old friend, Bakithi Kumalo, best known for being abruptly catapulted to bass stardom with his fretless slap solo on Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” back in the ‘80s.

Bakithi’s story is a powerful one. Having survived years of oppression in South Africa, it was a long, arduous journey from where he started to where he is now. The more I’ve gotten to know Bakithi, the more I’ve recognized his dedication to paying it forward, helping the next generation. 

Bakithi regularly works with kids in schools, getting them involved in many aspects of making music, often resulting in life-changing experiences.

For anyone learning to play music, Bakithi stresses the importance of starting with the basics, not making it harder than it needs to be. “Just listen and keep it simple,” he says. “Learn everything to improve yourself and be a better player,” focusing on the right things.

Bakithi’s words are helpful for keeping things in perspective, including learning bass. As bassists, we play a supportive role in the band, setting the foundation, along with the drummer. “Take your time, understand your tone, and play songs,” he continues, with a reminder that not everything you play has to be a bass solo.

As any student of For Bass Players Only will attest, the underlying mantra stressed throughout my site is not unlike what Bakithi is advocating: Lay down the groove, keep great time, and make the music feel good!

In learning bass, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play like Jaco, Victor Wooten, Gary Willis, or any of the other bass-playing icons. Just don’t forget to make “taking care of business” your top priority.

And remember also, that credo applies to all styles of music. In fact, Bakithi is an advocate of learning to play in a variety of musical styles. “I record all kinds of music, Irish music, jazz, this and that,” he says. “Do the same.”

Paying it forward is a beautiful thing. Helping the next generation is, in itself, is a noble and worthwhile cause. Bringing about a genuine love of music, with practical guidance, makes the process that much better. 

Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch my interview with Bakithi here.

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