I’m originally from Soweto, a metropolitan part of Johannesburg, South Africa. I currently live and work as a bassist in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the work I do is as a freelance sideman with various bands. I lead my own band, Vuyani Wakaba & Friends, which usually performs at various bass events around the United States. In addition to playing live, I also get called to teach and to play on recording sessions. I am a staff writer for Bass Musician Magazine. I have also worked with a few music equipment manufacturing companies on product development or prototype testing.
I came late to the bass. I started playing the bass at the age of 27. All my life my ears tended to focus on bass lines when I listened to music. Of course, at the time I didn’t know they were bass lines. One day, I decided out of curiosity to try to learn how to play the bass. I didn’t have one, so I knew I’d have to find one to buy or borrow. By complete coincidence, that very same morning, a co-worker of mine asked to borrow some money to get his bass guitar out of the pawn shop. In return, he’d let me keep the bass until he could pay me back. I couldn’t believe my luck! I jumped at the chance! That’s how I started playing a half scale metallic blue Memphis bass. After a month of playing my friend’s bass, I knew I had to get a bass of my own.
Currently, I’m not a part of a band, however, I do play professionally. As I mentioned earlier, I am freelancing with various bands at the moment. The last band I in was lead by Chicago blues legend and Delmark Records recording artist Eddie C. Campbell. After some serious health challenges prevented him from touring and performing, I decided to remain independent and work with a variety of bands around Chicago.
I love living in Chicago! The level of musicianship here is unbelievable! On any given night, you can see and hear world class musicians playing here. I’m just thankful that the family of musicians in Chicago has been so welcoming to me.
I’d like to think my playing is influenced by my South African heritage. Music I heard growing up is still locked away in my mind. I hear some harmonies in my head that can only be from my time living in South Africa. My good friend, a brother to me, really, Paul Simon bassist Bakithi Kumalo, keeps suggesting that we put together a project that pays homage to the music of South Africa. There are so many amazing musicians there! Just to name a few bassists: Sibusiso Victor Masondo, Concord Nkabinde, the late Sipho Gumede, Fana Zulu, and many more!
Back, before social networking was as prevalent as it is, it occurred to me that I live in one of the largest cities in the United States. Music has always been one of the defining elements of Chicago. However, most record labels, and most musicians often choose to consider cities like New York, Los Angeles, Nashville or Austin to move to. So, I felt that we needed to create something that would light the spotlight on Chicago. Another reason I formed the Chicago Rhythm Collective was to put bass players and drummers together. Often, we have bass clinics where drummers are not invited. Drummers have drum clinics where bass players are not invited. Interestingly, on stage, we have to work together. So, my thought was, why not put together clinics, events, etc., that bring both bass players and drummers together? We had a great run as a group. We featured music workshops, studio workshops, etc. This collective has since been disbanded and folded into the Chicago Bass Players page on Facebook.
Absolutely! Music crosses all borders, cultures and languages. I once had an unforgettable experience at Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom. This experience started on a flight I boarded in St. Louis, Missouri. I saw a young guy carrying a bass case, and since I was a very curious new bass player, I went over and tried to talk to him. It turns out he only the French language, which I don’t speak. So, we exchanged a few improvised hand gestures with each other. We then boarded the flight, and I went to my seat and promptly forgot the incident. When we landed at Heathrow, the young Frenchman was waiting for me with his bass. He motioned for me to follow him to a seating area. He pulled the bass out and began to play some Reggae bass lines. He’d then give me the bass and ask me to repeat his lines. He ended up giving me a three hour long bass lesson! French and English were useless to us, but the language of music worked very well! I wish I knew his name so I could find him and thank him for his generosity.
Music lets me express my thoughts and feelings. Music has introduced me to friends I will have for the rest of my life. Music has allowed me to go to places and experience things I would not have otherwise seen. Music means more to me than I can say in words. It gives my life balance.