By the time Cécile Doo-Kingué writes her Canadian citizenship exam, she’ll have a better understanding of this country than most people who were born here.
Singer/songwriter Doo-Kingué, a first-generation New Yorker of Cameroonian descent, first came to Montreal in the mid-90s for school, studying at McGill and Concordia universities. She decided to make it her full-time home about three years ago, and has been leading a successful music career in the city, having quickly earned a reputation as one of Montreal’s best guitarists. She’s played and recorded with a number of Montreal-based bands; co-founded “Chick Pickin’ Mondays,” a night promoting female singer-songwriters, in 2008; and released “Freedom Calling,” her self-produced, 12-track debut solo album, last year. “Home,” her song about immigration, was commissioned by the CBC.
A musician since the age of five, Doo-Kingué’s musical style is perhaps harder than that of other artists to define: blues, soul and Afro-folk meld with her suave vocals into something that has been described by crtics as electrifying.
“Blues is the gel, but there are a lot of different influences,” Doo-Kingué says of her style. “For sure it’s blues-based, but it’s not your stereotypical Delta blues or whatnot; it’s a combination of all my cultural baggage. There’s the African side that comes in a little bit, there’s the French side, there’s the States side and now the Canadian side as well.”
There’s a funky backbeat to everything she plays, Doo-Kingué says.
“It’s very spicy,” she explains, laughing.
When Doo-Kingué decided to apply for Canadian citizenship, she was sent the books and materials in order to study for the exam. She’s decided to ditch the texts, however, for a more hands-on, coast-to-coast experience, saying learning from books is no way to discover a country.
“I want to get to know Canada as much as possible, and for that, you travel, see it and really get a first-hand sense of the magnitude and what it is physically and on a human level,” she explains.
In August, Doo-Kingué em-barked on the first leg of her “Discovering Home” tour, an 18-month trip around the country, visiting and discovering in every Canadian province and territory. The first part of the trip saw her perform 20 shows throughout Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatch-ewan, Alberta and British Columbia; last Friday she kicked off the eastern portion of her tour in Sussex, N.B.
Doo-Kingué arrived in this province this week, and played at Clancy’s in Stephenville Tuesday night. Tonight she’s at the Bar Room in Corner Brook, Thursday she’ll be at Kelly’s Pub in Grand Falls-Windsor, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights will see her take the stage at CBTGs, The Rose and Thistle and back at CBTGs in St. John’s. From here, she’s headed back through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
“This is my way of saying, ‘Hey, East Coast — how you doin’?” Doo-Kingué, who’s been to the Atlantic provinces before as a backup musician, says in an accent that’s a half New Yorker, half French.
Though she plays most of the instruments herself on “Freedom Calling” — having learned to play the drums over the course of six months, after borrowing a set from a friend — Doo-Kingué is being accompanied on tour by Tricia Foster on bass and Eric Thibodeau on drums.
While she knows she won’t get to every square inch of the country, she’s hoping to at least get a good idea of how life changes from one province to the next; something she’s already noticed can vary a lot.
“I’ve learned a lot about the different makeup (of the provinces), even, for example the Métis and native populations you see more of in the prairies than in Montreal, or the different minorities that you have on the west coast. Just on that level — seeing the makeup of the different human aspects — is fascinating.”
Doo-Kingué is introducing audiences to “Freedom Calling,” which has been nominated for Sounds of Blackness awards for Best New Artist-English, Best Blues Artist and People’s Choice and a Lys Blues award for Best Blues-Associated Album, and says she’ll be breaking in some new tunes, trying them out in anticipation of returning to the recording studio once this leg of her tour is over near the middle of the month.
Not only does she expect her new music to be influenced by her travels, she’s counting on it. East Coast music, in particular, might not be as far removed from Doo-Kingué’s personal musical style as one might think.
“You might laugh, but there’s actually a huge, huge common ground between the Celtic sound and the Afro sound and the blues sound,” she explains.
“A lot of times the difference is rhythm.
“For me, anyway, it’s impossible to not be influenced by what I see and hear and experience, and if it comes and speaks to me, it’s going to make its way into my music, for sure.”
Doo-Kingué is not quite sure yet when she’ll get to write her citizenship exam, saying she’s waiting to hear from Immigration officials on a date and time. When the time comes, she’ll have a truer sense of the of country she’s embracing than she ever would have by reading about it, she says.
Hear Doo-Kingué’s music and get information about her upcoming shows online at http:// www.myspace.com/ceciledookingue.