Kaz Hawkins

On hearing her voice you’ll be transported to the banks of the Mississippi, to the streets of Clarksdale or Memphis, in the company of the great singers of blues, soul, folk, funk, rhythm ‘n blues… all rooted in the fervor of the gospel choirs. And yet, Kaz Hawkins was born in Northern Ireland and learnt her trade in the bars of Belfast where her father took her, amidst the chaos of a country plagued by segregation and civil war.
Unknown in France, Kaz decided to settle here. “I fell in love with your culture. Here, no one labels me. I am free to write a new chapter in my life.” It was a shared declaration of love based on the welcome she received from the different festival audiences, ‘Blues autour du Zinc’ at Beauvais and ‘Cognac Blues Passion’.
And so, a new chapter begins….with a release, on the 8th April, of a ‘Best of’ entitled ‘My Life and I’ (to be released as a double vinyl at the end of May) by her henceforth producers, Dixiefrog. 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.
Self taught, Kaz Hawkins began playing a guitar borrowed from a friend who showed her the basics. It didn’t need much before she was writing and composing her own songs.
In the light of this charismatic artist, strengthened by an indestructible faith, ‘My Life and I’ opens with ‘Pray’, a magnificent moment of communion with an a cappella gospel choir, just as ‘Hallelujah Happy People’ or ‘Feeling’ Good’, before confessing her torment in ‘One more Fight’ or the heart breaking ‘Surviving’. The powerful tone of Kaz’s voice with its raspy accents, also finds tenderness in ‘Because You Love Me’, ‘ the delicate love letter of a mother to her daughter leaving home, her ‘hit’ recorded solely with piano and voice. After the energetic ‘Drink With The Devil’ she takes us to the calm waters of ‘The River That Sings’, before inviting us to the exhilarating rhythm of ‘Shake’.
In all, 17 tracks she has both written and composed, except ‘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). 

After 4 albums, 2 EPs (extremely rare), a live and a compilation, ‘My Life and I’, distributed on the international scene for the first time, comes as a superb link between the past and present. Another bridge crossed, turning towards ‘ better days’, as she says, laughing heartily.
In Ireland, where she presents a show on BBC Radio Ulster, she is often coined as a diva. Surely because she bears no resemblance to anyone
But Kaz Hawkins is an authentic artist, true salt of the earth, whose exceptional tone, words and music touch the deepest of any hearts….