The Bass Lines Of Paul Simon's Graceland

Publication Date



Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland is considered by many to be a highlight of the renowned American songwriter’s career, including Simon himself who cites it as “the most significant achievement in my career” (Berlinger 2012). Even upon its release, the album was seen as a high point in the singer’s catalog, and an instant classic, as is noted in a 1986 Spin review that calls the album “Paul Simon’s greatest work” (O’Brien 1986, 27). Often praised for its groundbreaking combination of South African music with American pop by fans and critics alike, the core of what makes Graceland such an interesting album is the way in which Simon incorporates these two styles to create a unique sound. Part of what makes this combination successful was Simon’s use of South African session musicians during the recording process, who add authenticity to the album’s fusion of genres. Among these session musicians was bassist Bakithi Kumalo, whose fretless bass playing lends itself to many iconic moments on the album, as well as provides a unique backbone to the album’s fusion of sounds and styles. The goal of this project will be to identify ways in which elements of South African music present within the bass lines combine with Simon’s American pop songwriting to create a sound that is unique to Graceland, and which further influenced Simon’s songwriting later in his career. In order to achieve this, the first chapter of this paper will focus on the origin of the Graceland project, how it was initially conceptualized, and how, where, and when the recording sessions occurred. This 2 information will provide a background to further contextualize the ways in which South African and American musical elements are combined on the record. The second chapter will focus on the background of Bakithi Kumalo and the styles of South African music he plays and is influenced by to provide context for the styles of bass playing on the album. Chapter Three will present analyses of the bass lines and identify elements of traditional and popular South African music within them. Finally, by focusing on how the role of these bass lines affect the overall sound of Graceland, and by looking at how the electric bass is involved in Simon’s post-Graceland instrumental arrangements, the last chapter will demonstrate how the bass lines of Graceland contributed to a change in how Simon utilized the instrument during the later years of his career.

Major Mentor

Roy Vogt

Second Mentor

Bruce Dudley

Third Mentor

Peter Lamothe


Music, School of


Music and Performing Arts, College of

Document Type

Scholarly Project


Master of Music (MM)

Degree Level


Degree Grantor

Belmont University


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