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SA With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Vuyani Wakaba

Martin: What have you been doing for the last five years or so?

Vuyani: Over the last five years, I have been freelancing as well as playing with several groups I belong to. Most of my playing has been in the Western United States (states of Washington, Oregon, and at times California), Western Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia), and the Midwestern U.S. (Illinois and Wisconsin). I have played blues, R&B, Funk, Soul, Jazz, etc. with a large variety of bands. In mid 2009 I was hired to be the bassist for Chicago blues legend and Delmark recording artist Eddie C. Campbell. We’ve been out promoting Eddie’s latest release. In addition, I’ve been performing with my own fusion quintet at some Chicago bass events.

Martin: What recordings that you’ve played on would you recommend for listening?

Vuyani: At this time, none of the recordings I have played on are commercially available. However, I have recorded demo’s with Chicago’s Ambassador Jazz Trio (with Steve Zuterek on keys and Adrian Garza on drums) and with Chicago’s Five After Five Jazz Trio (with Chris Edwards on drums and Brian Goyette on guitar). I also recorded a full length CD with The Fat Dogs Bark blues band in Walla Walla, Washington. I recorded with Butterfly Sky at Jim Peterik’s (former Survivor guitarist) studio in suburban Chicago. I also did some extensive recording session work for various projects at the Bobby Kalamacz Studios in Dayton, Washington.

Martin: What’s been the low point in your career so far?

Vuyani: I’ve blocked most of these out! The one that comes to mind is a gig I played in Elgin, Oregon (don’t ever go there!) with the late Steve Mendoza (blues trio in the same style as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble). The patrons, who I later learned were extreme racists, grooved all night to my bass lines. At the end of the gig, they tried to see to it that I was the last black person to set foot in their town. I didn’t wait around to see what they meant, or how they’d carry out their unfriendly intentions. Let’s just say, by the time my car crossed city limits on my way out of town, I had the pedal to the metal almost to the point of running my foot through the floor! Ah…..good old times!

Martin: Wow! That must have been the scariest time of your life!

Vuyani: Yes, it was scary, but it doesn’t compare to riding a taxi from Soweto to Jo’burg! Seriously though, I have had many incredible experiences in music that make me forget the bad. I have met so many of the kindest people through music that it is easy to forget the sharks of the business. The bad experiences that stand out in my mind tend to be either very funny, or very extreme. The rest have been pushed aside by the many great things I’ve experienced. In fact, this interview is a great example of how good, music has been to me. You and I would never have met if it weren’t for our love of music and the bass.

Let me further illustrate my point: William Blair, a wonderful guitarist friend of mine once bought me concert tickets to see Steely Dan. He did this because he’d heard me tell him that I didn’t know of the band or its discography (Steely Dan wasn’t common where I grew up in Soweto). By sheer chance, on my way to the concession stands I ran into someone with an all access pass. Bravely I asked if there was a way for me to get one from this man. He said that I could only get one if I was a roadie or a musician. I told him I was a bass player, at which he replied “that won’t work because that’s my job”. It turned out that I was talking to the great Tom Barney (former Miles Davis bassist and top New York session bassist). So I asked if he’d mind if I picked his brain to learn something form him. Tom ended up sharing his knowledge with me for the next 45 minutes!

Martin: And what has been the high point of your career?

Vuyani: Wow, too many to list! However, here are some highlights:
Learning from Bay Area bassists Albert Hobson (former Kenny G bassist) and Victor Little, New York City bassist Kim Clarke, Victor Wooten, Adam Nitti, Steve Bailey, Bill Dickens, Chuck Rainey, Mike Pope, Anthony Wellington, Regi Wooten and Jauqo III-X. Recording with drummer Paul Wertico (former Pat Metheny drummer, now with Larry Coryell). Playing blues with Chicago blues legends and Delmark recording artists Eddie C. Campbell, Jimmy Burns and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, as well as with Mojo Mark Cihlar. Also playing with bassist Quintin Berry and the phenomenal Canadian acoustic guitarist Don Alder.

I also got some opportunities to perform with my fusion band at some Chicago bass events. These events included bass players like Bill Dickens, Jauqo III-X, Doug Johns, Will Howard, Scott Pazera, John Owens, and Bill Clements.

Martin: What are your goals currently?

Vuyani: I would like to learn some of the bass styles used by South African bass players. Fortunately Victor Masondo, a friend of mine, who happens to be a phenomenal bassist who should be better known, turned me on to some recordings that will help me achieve my goal of learning some South African basslines. Lastly, I would like to put together a band that tours sporadically (one or two week tours around, Africa, Europe and Asia). This is a long shot though… know how tough it is to get our fellow musicians to commit sometimes, right?

Martin: Actually, Vic and I have been discussing doing an interview for this Mag for over a year now. We’ve both been so busy that it hasn’t happened yet, but we will get around to it one day!!! So what does Vuyani Wakaba get up to when he’s having a break from music?

Vuyani: Man, I love to travel! My father is a minister and he has travelled all my life. I think I got the travel bug from him. Although he’s been all over the world (to six of the seven continents), I think I’ve taken it a step further by having lived in Canada and the U.S. Fortunately, I’m married to a wonderful woman who is an adventurer at heart, so we do a lot of travelling together. I also love to hang out with my brothers whenever I can. One of my brothers lives up in Centurion, between Johannesburg and Pretoria; another lives in the Northgate area of Jo’burg; and yet another who is a commercial pilot lives near Johannesburg International Airport. So, as soon as time allows, I plan on coming over to see them. One of my brothers lives in Bloemfontein near my parents, so you know I like to head over there from time to time. Other things I like to do are playing golf (I’m terrible at it, but I love the game), watching movies, checking out various ethnic restaurants (food is my Kryptonite!). Oh…I’m an electronics freak! I love those miniaturized gadgets with all of their creature features!

Martin: Thanks very much for the interview Vuyani, I enjoyed it.

Vuyani: Martin, it has been my pleasure!

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