Bakithi Kumalo brings ‘Graceland’ to Bethlehem
Bakithi Kumalo is bringing “Graceland” back home with The All-Star “Graceland” Tribute Band,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1, Levitt Pavilion, SteelStacks, Bethlehem. The concert is free and open to the public.
Home is Bethlehem now for Kumalo, legendary Johannesburg, South Africa, bass player on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album (1986) and in his subsequent concerts, including “Homeward Bound: The Farewell Tour.”
Kumalo originated the memorable bass line of “You Can Call Me Al” on Simon’s now classic world music album, “Graceland.”
“Right after we play at the Levitt Pavilion, I’m flying to New Orleans to do the final rehearsal with Paul [Simon],” Kumalo says.
“It’s just been unbelievable to show up and learn stuff from Paul [Simon].
“And then the greatest thing is to play for his fans. They come every night to dance for my bass playing. They hear that ‘Graceland’ music and they go crazy.
“And it’s a thank-you and a farewell for me, too, and a continuation because I am not planning to retire anytime soon,” Kumalo says.
The final leg of Simon’s farewell tour begins Sept. 5, New Orleans, continues for 11 dates, and concludes Sept. 20, 21, Madison Square Garden, New York City, and Sept. 22, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens.
“He’s [Simon] gonna end in Queens, where everything started for him,” says Kumalo, a Grammy Award-winning musician.
“Playing with Paul Simon, the final farewell tour,” Kumalo pauses, taking it all in. “Here it is. I am doing this now. It’s just been amazing and the greatest experience of my life.”
Simon’s farewell tour began May 16, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; continued in the United States in June, went to Europe in July and was off in August.
“Thirty-two years later, from the ‘Graceland’ recording: It’s something that I think about every day, from where I started and where I’m going,” says Kumalo.
“It’s been quite a journey, and a joy. What else can I say?”
Kumalo has toured and or recorded with, among others, The Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, jazz stars Herbie Hancock and Randy Brecker, and fellow South African natives, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.
“My mother said, ‘They [Masekela and Makeba] left South Africa and never came back.’ But look at me now. I’m in Bethlehem,” says Kumalo.
Since calling the Lehigh Valley his home, Kumalo has lectured at the Allentown Art Museum, and performed with his trio at Hotel Bethlehem, and with his Four Peace Band at Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem.
Ryan Tennis, on vocals, is leader of the “Graceland” Tribute Band.
“They’re from Philadelphia,” Kumalo says of the “Graceland“ Tribute Band. “They surprised me with the ‘Graceland’ stuff. They learned it and they called me and said, ‘Bring your bass.’ I took my bass. I said, ‘Man, this is great.’ They play the music very great.”
The Levitt Pavilion concert is expected to include “You Can Call Me Al,” “Graceland” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”
Kumalo, a vocalist and composer, is happy to be in Bethlehem. His daughter Mbali attends Kutztown University and daughter Daliswa attends Westminster College, New Wilmington, Lawrence County.
“It’s beautiful,” Kumalo says of the Lehigh Valley. “And my kids are here.”