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Art and Culture, Entertainment, Features

South African bassists taking the lead

Bass players have since time immemorial been regarded as back benchers of the music industry with only a handful taking centre stage.
This lack of recognition is strange when you consider that people grooved and nodded to the bass more than anything else. Like all things in the world today, things are changing.
Lately, the musical industry is seeing more and more bassists taking the lead. This is only logical since the bass instrument is the one that lays the foundation of music. One name synonymous with the bass from the 70s is the late Durban-born South African legend, Sipho Gumede.

However, in the Reggae world, bassists have traditionally been adored. One example is Jamaican bassist Robbie Shakespeare, of Sly and Robbie, the drum and bass kings who is undoubtedly a household name for decades.

Lisina

Some South African bass players have taken it even a notch further by not only playing the instrument but are lead vocalists as well, as Gabriel Mawande Stuurman would say, ‘this is eye and ear candy to the audience’. One of these sons of the soil, is Bongani Bheki Masina, known in the music circles as ‘Lisina’.

The Mpumalanga-born musician explains how he came to be called ‘Lisina’, “One of my friends, who I worked with when we were working with Siphokazi, Billy Monama, one day said to me, “If you are alone you are Lisina, but with other brothers you are Masina.” Since that day, most of the musicians started calling me ‘Lisina’. I like the name, so I decided to call myself Lisina.”

Lisina is a self-taught bass guitarist whose love affair with the instrument began at a very tender age. In high school, Lisina was playing for Lite Masters band.

Lisina says, “Yes, after that in 2000 we started a group called Khumbula with my brother-in-law, Skipper Shabalala and two guys. Khumbula released two albums, the first one was titled Bayakhuluma, and that song Bayakhuluma was big on Kaya FM, Ukhozi FM and other Nguni radio stations. Our second album titled Khetha was also doing ok, we also worked with the late legendary Jabu Khanyile on one song (Senzeni) that was in the second album.”

Senzeni – Khumbula

“Khumbula did not disband. We just each got busy with other stuff, but we are currently talking about getting back in the studio together again,” remarked Lisina.

“I also got busy with my own solo projects which include producing a Swazi Jazz artist called Itallo Dlamini, we still working together.”

In September 2019, Lisina released his first single, Uthanda Kanjani? A beautifully done love song with a touch of the African Kwela music with the trademark penny whistle at the beginning of the track, making anyone from the old school nostalgic.

“I worked with the legendary Themba Mokoena on guitar, Jack Lerole Jnr on the penny whistle, Lungile (Lulu) Maduna on drums, brass was Itallo Dlamini, Sphamandla Bhembe, Thami Mahlangu. On vocals was Faith Kekana, Sakhile Mthethwa. My self on bass guitar and lead vocals,” narrated the talented bassist.

Lisina – Uthanda Kanjani

A few months later, in January 2020, Lisina released Mr Gumede, a tribute to the late great bassist himself, Sipho Gumede. Lisina says, “On Mr Gumede, I worked with some wonderful and brilliant talent. On keys was Barney Bophela, on the saxophone was Banele Ndaba and KG Nova on guitar. I played the bass and did the vocals as well.”

The track begins with the skilful strumming of the bass, an apt intro to the tribute to Mzansi’s Don of the bass.

In September, 2020, Lisina released Baby Girl which was followed by a rendition of Caiphus Semenya’s Matswale in April 2021.

“I decided to do the song Matswale by Dr Caiphus Katse Semenya because it revolves with time, it shows us the importance of our women,” Lisina explained.

“I worked with Skipper again on Matswale. He played the guitar. Arthur Shabalala played the keyboard. On drums was Lungile (Lulu) Maduna, Phumlani Mtiti played the saxophone, backing vocals were done by Nomfundo (Ndoh) Sambo and Bahati Sithole. I played the bass and also did the lead vocals.”

Lisina has recorded and/ or performed with some of Africa’s top cream like Jabu Khanyile, Joe Nina, Tshepo Tshola, Zama Jobe, Angelique Kidjo, Afro Tenors, Camagwini, Malik, Siphokazi, Zulu Boy, Jessica Mbangeni, Mahotela Queens and many more.

He is currently working with the legendary Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbuli, Wanda Baloyi, Mbuso Khoza, Vuyokazi Tshaya, Paseka Tefu, Skipper Shabalala and Itallo Dlamini.

Bongani aka Lisina

Lisina’s past performances are too numerous to mention. They include performances at: the Kora Awards in 2000, WOMAD festival in Singapore with Jabu Khanyile in 2001, UK tour with Eddie Grant in 2009 when he was part of the opening act for UB40 and he also performed at the AMAA awards in Nigeria with Kwela Tebza in 2013, just to mention a few.

This bass guitarist is not yet done.

“I’m working on something with my nephew. He’s 16 years of age. His name is Ntando. He’s good with Amapiano beats, so I want to do something with him. I’m also starting some online lessons. I will be teaching the acoustic and the bass guitars.”

Guitar lessons anyone? Rest assured that you’ll be taught by one of SA’s best guitar players. What a privilege!

About Constance van Niekerk

Constance van Niekerk, (Connie V) is a creative writer, poet, music lover, spoken word artist, freelance writer, blogger and educator. She has contributed to several anthologies and published her own collection, Echoes of My Heart: A Poetry Collection available for purchase on all Amazon Stores Worldwide. Follow her on Twitter : @convanniekerk Connect with her on Facebook and Linkedin.

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