Vuyani Wakaba is a South African lad living and working in the Chicago area. I’ve known Vuyani for about six years now and not only do we have a lot in common (although our approach to actually playing the bass is radically different), we have many mutual friends. I asked Vuyani if he would allow me to interview him for this magazine at the tail end of last year and although he agreed, I think he felt he wasn’t worthy – he’s such a humble Human Being. Anyway, I eventually coaxed an interview out of him and this is what he had to say.
Vuyani: I began playing bass when I was 27 years old, which is pretty late according to most people. However, I started playing gigs three months after I got my first bass, and I haven’t stopped. I was also blessed enough to meet some world class bassists who shared some of their knowledge and experience with me.
Martin: How did you get started?
Vuyani: I used to be a terrible trombone player (it’s true!). One day I realized that my solo’s weren’t melodic, instead, they sounded like they would make better bass lines. So, I decided to try the bass. Coincidentally, the next day, a co-worker of mine approached me to loan him the money to get one of his basses out of the pawn shop. In return, I would get to keep it till he could afford to pay me back. I used that time to figure out if I enjoyed playing bass or not. I was hooked from day one!
Martin: Can you remember what bass it was?
Vuyani: Yes I can! It was a very cheap half scale Memphis fretted electric bass. Of course I didn’t know that it was half scale at the time….in fact, I didn’t even know how to tune it! I ended up playing my first few performances with that bass with a gospel choir. They were so patient! When I finally bought my first bass, the 1975 American Fender Precision, I then had to get used to playing a full scale instrument.
Martin: Have you tried your hand at any other instruments since picking up the bass?
Vuyani: No, I haven’t yet. I’ve had my hands full with the bass. I do plan on learning how to play keys, mainly to help me with my composition and to be able to comp for myself when I record myself. Another interest of mine is the drum set. I’ve come to believe that bassists who are also drummers have an advantage of truly understanding rhythm better than those of us who do only one thing. I could be wrong, but it sure seems that way.
Martin: What’s your favourite band / solo artist?
Vuyani: Very tough question! I’d have to say my favourite artist is Prince. His originality, creativity, sense of rhythm, musicianship, and unusually high expectations make him a musician’s musician. Though, to me, he’s one of the most creative guitarists, I mostly enjoy hearing this multi-instrumentalist when he is playing drums and/or the bass. His timing and rhythm are like no one else’s. I thoroughly respect his courage to march to the beat of a different drummer.
As far as bass players I like? There are far too many for me to name without missing someone. I’m always amazed by Victor Wooten’s originality; I really dig Alain Caron – especially his fretless sound, I’m a real nerd for Meshell Ndegeocello’s playing; Adam Nitti’s doing some ridiculous work on his recordings; of course, I can’t leave out Matt Garrison, oh…and Quintin Berry….and Marcus Miller… You see? I can go on indefinitely. I know I’ve left some important artists out of this list already! For the most part, I feel I can learn something from every bass player I come across.
Martin: I know what you mean! There are a lot of great bass players out there. In reference to Prince, I think he is one of those characters that you either love or totally despise – depending on whether you understand the man or not. – he comes across (to me) as an extremely intelligent person that you shouldn’t ever mess with!!!
Vuyani: Prince is a genius! Even those who do not like his music must admit that he is a serious creative force of nature. A friend of mine who used to play bass with Prince as they were growing up told me that he is a perfectionist. Not only that, but when he was trying to get his first record deal, the record label made him come in and audition on every instrument that was played on his demo because they didn’t believe that he had recorded the whole demo by himself. Even the way he has chosen to structure the business end of his music is revolutionary. He records his music himself at his Paisley Park facility in Minneapolis, he presses his own cd’s, he has his own marketing team, and all he needs from the major labels is distribution. Even the distribution is not as big a need as it is with most artists because he has a very strong internet based marketing system in place. That is why he makes more money per cd than any other major artist out there today. When I attended his Musicology concert, I noticed that Prince was giving away the full length Musicology cd to each ticket holder! Now, that is unheard of! He’s an innovator, which is why I admire him so much.