by Malcolm Petch
“Cécile Doo-Kingué blends blues, soul and afro-folk to create a unique sound,” says the bio on Doo-Kingué’s ReverbNation page. Truth was never more succinctly spoken. Crank up her music, and you’d think you were listening to Colin James – at least until the vocal comes in. A couple of tracks later you’ll find yourself doing a world beat groove on a tune with French lyrics. And with the continuity of Doo-Kingué’s rich voice and solid guitar playing running throughout each track, the multi-faceted music makes a single, cohesive package.
Doo-Kingué’s guitar work, whether on electric or acoustic, underpins a wide variety of styles, but it’s clear her musical heart is in the blues. Woman blues singers are much more common than women who play the blues, so to hear a lady play a smokin’ blues electric guitar is a refreshing change. Doo-Kingué says her brother had a lot to do with her picking up the guitar as a youngster and playing the way she does.
“You think blues guitar, how many people will mention Sister Loretta Tharpe before T-Bone Walker?” says Doo-Kingué. “When my brother realized I was getting good on guitar and saw that I wanted to play lead, he told me one of the most sexist things in the world: ‘Whatever you do, don’t play like a girl!’ He then handed me a Freddie King tape and a T-Bone Walker tape. ‘Learn these two tapes and you’ll be set for life…’ If that doesn’t set off a blues fire in you, I don’t know what will…”
Since she came to Montreal in 1995, the musical community around her has welcomed Doo-Kingué with open arms. After 17 years in New York, born there to parents who’d immigrated from Cameroon, Doo-Kingué also lived in France for a year-and-a-half prior to her move to Canada. Montreal has been her adopted home for more than 15 years now, after she decided to head there for some schooling.
“I first came up to Montreal for studies. I was working two jobs in Florida, not particularly enjoying life, and unable to afford a solid higher education in the States,” says Doo-Kingué. “I wasn’t happy… Close friends suggested I apply to McGill. They thought Montreal would be the perfect city for me: artsy, bilingual, multi-culti, a touch of Europe in America, a laid back NYC, full of eye candy… They were right. Montreal has a beat of its own that I fell in love with, and in which I felt – and still feel – right at home. I’ve met such wonderful people, friends, a family that just keeps growing bigger and stronger.”
Montreal has long been known for its strong music scene (Montreal jazz festival, and so on), and Doo-Kingué has left a solid impression in several corners. She stands strong as both a musician and a technician, with her guitar-playing abilities allowing her the opportunity to perform with artists as diverse as the Aliens, Tricia Foster, Soul City, Ismael Isaac, and the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.
Doo-Kingué loves playing with MJGC: “It’s one of my favourite acts to play with! There’s nothing like accompanying a choir. There is something purely magical about hearing that many voices in harmony; it gives me goose bumps and makes me smile for the duration of the experience. It’s a huge pleasure and honour working with Dr. Trevor Payne and so many talented singers and musicians.”
Her strengths as a technician mean Doo-Kingué has also spent time behind the desk mixing albums for United Steel Workers of Montreal, among others, and producing for Dibondoko and herself. Freedom Calling, Doo-Kingué’s self-produced debut album, was released in June 2010. Local critics loved it.
“She is, in my estimation, the best guitarist in the city – male or female,” says Gern F., of United Steel Workers of Montreal. And Bill Brownstein echoes that sentiment in his review in the Montreal Gazette: “She is not only one of the most electrifying guitarists around, but she is also one of the most versatile, covering everything from Afro-folk to funk, blues to bluegrass.”
But accolades can only do so much to give you the feel of a performer. Listening to Doo-Kingué sing, or watching videos of her performing, give the sense that this woman is an established artist, someone who’s comfortable in her own skin. And seeing what she likes to do when she’s not in the spotlight, like helping to start Chick Pickin’ Mondays at a local club (to give a much-needed boost to underappreciated women singers and musicians), solidifies further the understanding that Cecile sees beyond the edge of the stage.
And Doo-Kingué’s philosophy behind her current tour reflects that same “bigger-than-the-music” world-view.
“This western run is the first chapter of a cross-country tour I’ve baptized ‘Discovering Home’,” says Doo-Kingué. “I recently applied for my citizenship and am determined to visit every province and territory in the country while I wait to say ‘I do’. I’m making a conscious decision to be Canadian and want to see and learn as much as I can about my new homeland through experience, not books.”
Cecile Doo-Kingué’s western tour brings her trio to the Streaming Café on August 27th at 7 p.m. Whether you’re already a fan of her music, or whether you’d be hearing it for the first time, the evening promises to be a night of engaging world, soul, and blues grooves. Come on out and meet Cecile Doo-Kingué, or connect with her online through our chat while she’s live at streamingcafe.net