Kaz Hawkins, the vocal powerhouse whose vocal elasticity places her in the company of the great singers of blues, soul, folk, funk, rhythm 'n blues... all rooted in the fervour of the gospel choirs. And yet, Kaz Hawkins was born in Northern Ireland and learned her trade in the bars of Belfast where her father took her, amidst the chaos of a country plagued by segregation and war. Kaz Hawkins is an authentic artist, true salt of the earth, whose exceptional tone, words and music touch the deepest of any hearts.
After 4 albums, 2 EPs and a live album, this compilation, My Life and I, is being distributed on the international scene for the first time, and acts as a superb link between her storied past and her powerful present, for listeners new and old.
The album is another bridge crossed, turning towards 'better days', she says, laughing heartily. The record is being released on premiere Paris-based Blues label DixieFrog Recordings. Unknown in France, Kaz decided to settle there.
"I fell in love with [their] culture. Here, no one labels me. I am free to write a new chapter in my life."
This double LP ( already available on CD) spans some of her finest originals and covers in 'Feeling Good' written by Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse, two Etta James covers: 'Something’s Gotta Hold On Me' and 'At Last', and a breathtaking cover of 'Full Force Gale' by her compatriot Van Morrison.
At her side over the years musicians who have been with her from the start include: percussionist David Jamison (who co-produced all original tracks), Sam York (keyboards), Michael McKinney and Jan Uhrin (bass), Nick McConkey & Stef Paglia (guitars) and Peter Uhrin (drums).
To understand such emotion with all the imperfections that create the intensity of her singing, you need to head back in time. To that of a small girl, who secretly wrote poetry in an attempt to forget the pain of a tainted innocence. It was also when she entered her first talent show interpreting Doris Day's 'Secret Love'. The much impressed artistic director of the show led her towards another repertoire: that of Etta James. Such advice was to overwhelm the young girl of twelve. On hearing the cassette of 'Saint-Louis Blues', that her grandmother brought back from the market, Kaz parted with her pretty meringue dress and her sheet music for 'No, no Nanette' and 'Tea for Two', to wholly embrace this soothing music.
"I could hear the sadness and identified with it. I wanted to sing like her, but without imitating her", she recalls.
A symbolic legacy that would lead her to adopt the name of the lady that had always inspired her ( Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins).
And so began the concerts with covers from Etta, but also from Aretha Franklin and Joe Cocker. Years that were also tainted by violence that left scars.
"Music was my refuge, like a comforter! When I sing, I feel safe. My past has made me the artist I am, but it doesn't define me" she confides.