Patrick Finley: Runner goes the distance for music

2012-08-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:36:44Z Patrick Finley: Runner goes the distance for musicPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Before you ask, the Barefoot Marathoner wears shoes when he's singing.

The past few weeks, he's been more concerned with his arms than his legs, anyway. Holding the microphone while he dances has proven problematic.

"I need to get a headset," he said.

For as long as he can remember, Bassirima Soro has felt music fighting to escape out of him, like a sneeze.

When he was a child, he held the beat and played shakers while his father, a medicine man and musician, and his mother, a singer, played in their native Ivory Coast.

When he joined the country's army at 18, a fantastic excuse for Ivory Coast to put him on the national team, he was the singer of his section.

And when, after setting Ivory Coast records in the 15,000 meters and the marathon, he moved to the United States to pursue distance running, music didn't leave him.

He settled in Southern Arizona, won six Tucson Marathons - many of them barefoot - and even joined the Pima College team, despite being 10 years older than his contemporaries.

He wrote songs in his head and sang karaoke with friends, eventually enrolling in nursing school to start another new career.

"All of a sudden, I couldn't do anything without singing," said the 42-year-old married father of a college-aged son. "I couldn't stop.

"All my focus was on music. It was what my dad told me - I'm not singing because I'm a singer.

"Something in the music made you do stuff you don't even know."

He played with Key Ingredients of African Soul, a local band that, if I remember my experience in their audience before, performed with the energy of a caffeinated weasel.

After 3 1/2 years, Soro decided he wanted to go solo and focus on reggae and zouglou, a form of Ivory Coast dance pop.

He performs under "K-Bass," a nod to his first name, which music and running fans always struggled to spell.

He pronounces it not like the guitar but like Dan Aykroyd's fish blender. (And that, dear reader, is the only time in written history Aykroyd and world music have appeared in the same sentence).

Soro spent the last year or so assembling a band with more than 12 members - it boasts a horn section, keyboard, congas and dancers - for his new album.

"I was away from the stage," he said. "As a former athlete, I know in order to go worldwide, you have to practice - to make sure your dancing, your singing, is ready."

"La Liberte" is his second solo album, but his first since branching out on his own for good.

It's catchy.

He sings in English, French and his native Bambara, and plays both reggae ("with an African signature," he said) and the addictive zouglou.

"Those two things are part of me," he said. "Why not do both?"

Soro - a fan of everyone from Bob Marley to Elton John to Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder (good taste, this guy) - is holding an album release party Saturday night at The Hut on Fourth Avenue.

"Somebody told me in Africa, 'A champion is always a champion,'" he said. "When I'm singing, I have the mentality of when I was running."

That's setting a high standard.

From 1989 to 1996, he won five Ivory Coast titles in the 5,000 meters and six more in the 10,000.

In 1996, Soro sat in an airport in his native country, ready to fly to Atlanta for the Summer Olympics.

Two hours before the takeoff, though, the nation's only qualified marathoner was one of 15 athletes told that Ivory Coast was not sending him to the Games.

Space was limited, they said.

Later, the truth came out: Officials and their family members took their spots for a vacation. The Minister of Sport was fired.

Soro decided, then, he would move to the United States. In 1997, he did.

Separating Soro the runner from K-Bass the musician is foolish, he told me - like telling him to play reggae but not zouglou.

"At this level, who I am is related to all those things - the army, the band, running," he said. "They're all related, because it's the same person, the same body, the same soul, the same way of fighting.

"I put the same commitment, at the same level."

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