By Trevor Campbell
CALGARY – Cecile Doo-Kingue is legendary on the Canadian music circuit. Her guitar stylings drift seamlessly, blending blues, soul, folk, afro-root, and classic R&B into one beautiful tapestry. Born and raised in New York City but now happily based out of Montreal, she’s also a powerful singer songwriter and activist.
Her bold personality, fighting spirit, and great sense of humor are sure to come out when she performs in Calgary later this month.
“Every time we hit the stage… we play, we enjoy each other and we make sure that everyone has a good time,” she notes.
“It’s about music, but it’s also about the human connection. You’re gonna hear some new stuff ‘cause I want to break in some tunes that I’ve been working on, and try some different formulas too, with a mix of electric and acoustic. Just a good time, no pretense, you’re not going to get any twerking, but you are gonna get bonafide folks who love doing what they do and sharing it with a crowd.
Doo-Kingue has averaged 100-plus shows per year for the past three years, including previous stops in Calgary, which she always looks forward to.
“The first time the trio played Calgary was Mikey’s Juke Joint. Folk Fest has been great to us, doing the boot camp, having us back two years in a row. Honestly, Calgary is one of my favorite places to play in the country.”
This time, Doo-Kingue is performing indoors at Arts Commons with her bandmates Anthony Pageot (drums) and Pierre Desmarais (bass), but she enjoys both indoor and outdoor settings for different reasons.
“I like both; I definitely like the intimacy of smaller rooms because it’s a lot more immediate contact, right? But, festivals are great too because you sort of expand that intimacy to something a bit bigger,” she explains.
“Sense of humor comes out different too, right? I tend to censer the naughtier side than when it’s a festival. In bars or clubs, you can have a bit more of an adult conversation.”
As the youngest of eight children, all kinds of music flooded into Doo-Kingue’s world as she grew up. Things got real once her brother gave her his guitar.
“That was the beginning of the end. As a kid I always gravitated toward instruments. Whether it was percussion or the recorder, whatever, if it was music I was there and intrigued.”
Legends like The Beatles, Freddy King, T-Bone Walker, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder acted as her teachers as she learned to play chords and hone her skills.
“As a teenager, Tracy Chapman was a big influence. I remember seeing her with just a guitar and just blowing me away and having the balls to say shit that was real. I always gravitated toward the folks that had something to say who were trying to be part of the change they wanted to see in society,” she recalls.
“Something I try to include in my songwriting as much as possible. It’s still work in progress to see how to present it in a universal way. And create a dialogue as opposed to just being angry, or being sad, or just bitching for the sake of bitching, but not trying to offer anything.”
And while Doo-Kingue doesn’t necessarily see herself as a role model or influencer, she’s constantly trying to be the best person she can be and she believes that she can affect chance.
“It’s funny, it’s not something that I think about necessarily. I do hope that I can, I think that we all want to inspire to a certain extent. If we’re going to present ourselves in public, I think that we want to kind of present part of what we hope to see. I want to believe that I’m a bit of a role model for woman instrumentalist or for black artists who don’t fit the stereotype. I want to believe that I’m a nice alternative to a lot of what’s being pushed.”
She laughs: “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Beyonce’s legs.”
We’ve come a long way in terms of progress, but Doo-Kingue sees first hand we have a ways to go with many social issues, namely gender equality.
“Every time I do a gig, gender comes up, in the negative or the positive. ‘Wow, it’s great to see a woman playing lead on guitar,’ or sometimes it’s ‘Hey sweetie, do you need help plugging in your guitar?’” she says.
“So, as much as we’ve come a long way in terms of being accepted and respected and whatnot, there’s still an imbalance between the sexes. Not just in terms of gender, it’s also in terms of sexuality, in terms of so many things. Do I hope that we’ll get to a point where gender doesn’t matter, race doesn’t mater, sexuality doesn’t matter, and any of that doesn’t matter in society? I hope so. It doesn’t mean that we have to erase the differences ‘cause differences are what make us richer, but it shouldn’t be an issue any more.”
In the vein of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and of course, her idol Chapman, Doo-Kingue uses her voice and reach to speak her mind, but does she feels like she can affect change from friendly old Canada, or would she rather be in the political trenches of the USA where they need outspoken minds the most?
“After the inauguration I toyed with the idea of moving back to be part of the ‘resistance’. But realistically, I do believe that you don’t necessarily have to be in a place to be able to affect change,” she states.
“Quality of life is better here, just in terms of something as simple as health care or not fearing getting shot down by cops the same way. That’s not to say we don’t have our problems here, because we do. I’ve been stopped and profiled more times than I’d care to remember, but there’s definitely a safety factor here that I’m happy to have as opposed to living in the States.”
She also notes the right wing movements taking hold in Brazil, USA, South America, Europe and even Quebec.
“How to make that pendulum swing back to some kind of middle ground where everyone can feel represented and not excluded and not feel that we’re going back into the dark ages and lose all the rights we fought so hard to get as women, as people of color, as queer, as whatever it may be. Whether I’m living here or in New York, what I would do to counteract that is the same.”
Cecile Doo-Kingue performs November 9 and 10 at Arts Commons (Calgary).Arts Commons, Cécile Doo-Kingué