LIVE: Bakithi Kumalo & the Graceland Experience @UPH, 02/05/2022

Bakithi Kumalo is a highly regarded South African bass player who has been playing since he was a child in Soweto. He is best known for appearing on Paul Simon’s historic “Graceland“ album. Graceland was one of the mainstream recordings of the 80s that was heavily influenced by world music. In this case, the music of South Africa and Louisiana zydeco.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Bakithi and his seven-person band, the Graceland Experience, played a 90-minute set that featured music from the recording as well as old chestnuts from Paul Simon’s solo career and the Simon and Garfunkel catalog, as well as a smattering of originals. The real surprise in the set was Emily Drinker’s beautiful rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

The music was upbeat with the Zulu Mbaqanga rhythms and harmony. Shawn Hennesey and Joseph Keim provided much of the color and backbeat with their percussion and drums. His playing was often using slap and thumb playing that became prominent in electric bass playing in the 70s. He alternated between a 6 and 4 string bass.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Providing much of the lead vocals as well as playing guitar was Ryan Tennis, a solo artist and bandleader in his own right who hails from Philadelphia as well Shawn Hennessy. The intricate complexities of African guitar were performed by Jason Jonik. Robin Clabby filled out the band’s sound with his saxophone.

The vocals, as well as harmonies, also figured prominently into the set. Solo and duo features were part of the evening’s performances which highlighted the many talents of the versatile band. 

The small but enthusiastic crowd spent much of the time “dancing” in their seats and later dancing.

This was a much-needed break for the audience as well as the band from a very tough week.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Bakithi promised he would return. I hope he will and look forward to it.

For those who would like to quench their thirst for live South African music, the acapella singing and dancing Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be at UPH on March 5 @ 7 PM.


  • Bakithi Kumalo-4 and 6 string electric bass
  • Ryan Tennis- Guitar, vocals
  • Joseph Keim – drums
  • Shawn Hennessey – percussion, vocals
  • Robin Clabby – sax
  • Elliot Garland – keys, bass
  • Jason Jonik – guitar
  • Emily Drinker – vox


  • Boy in a the Bubble
  • Graceland
  • I Know
  • Gumboots
  • African Skies
  • That was your Mother
  • Crazy Love
  • Emily
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Morena
  • Drum Jam
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Water
  • Mother & Child Reunion
  • Diamonds in the sole of her shoes
  • Call Me Al
  • KAW
  • Obvious Child
  • Late in the Evening

Comments are closed.