“I was forced to play fretless because it was the cheapest bass available”: Paul Simon’s Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo defined the 1980s fretless bass sound – but the session pro says he knew nothing about it before making the album

Bakithi Kumalo
(Image credit: Andrew Lepley / Getty)

As bassist on Paul Simon’s 1986 smash Graceland, Bakithi Kumalo helped create one of the defining four-string sounds of the decade – and his Washburn fretless bass was key to that smooth, yet colorful and dynamic technique.

Now, in a new interview with Bass Player, Kumalo – who was already one of South Africa’s top session players at the time – recalls the choice of his Washburn and the subsequent development of his distinctive voice on the instrument was actually more of a happy accident than a stroke of genius. 

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Matt Parker
Features Editor, GuitarWorld.com

Matt is Features Editor for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.

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