Cecile Doo-Kingue remembers the first concert she ever went to. It was Simon and Garfunkel live in Central Park – the show that was recorded for their famous live album. Doo-Kingue was three.
“I remember the feeling of being surrounded by I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of people and the energy of what music can do,” she said.
When she was a bit older, she picked up her brother’s guitar and started playing. The last of eight children of Cameroonian parents, she grew up in New York City in a musical household. Her father was a big jazz freak, her brother was a huge blues fan and there was also lots of African music being played in her house. Her brother would sneak her into clubs in New York City when she was still underage.
“It was a very eclectic musical atmosphere,” she said. “All of those sounds were part of my musical reality and made their way into my guitar and eventually the song writing as well.”
Going to shows growing up had a huge influence on her and watching people perform inspired her to do the same.
In 1995, Doo-Kingue moved to Montreal for school and became involved in the city’s music scene, developing a reputation as one of the city’s best guitarists. She played in bands for years, but it wasn’t until 2010 that she released her first solo album, Freedom Calling. On the album, she blended her blues, soul and afro-folk influences. Bill Brownstein of the Montreal Gazette called her one of “most electrifying guitarists around” as well as one of the “most versatile.”
Doo-Kingue’s guitar playing is very much in the classic blues styles and she had a deep, soulful singing voice. She readily admits to stealing from her influences to develop her own style.
“It started with hearing something that I really dug and wanting to figure out how to play,” she said. “No two players sound the same so eventually you make it yours. I have no shame in saying I’ve stolen from people I respect and enjoy.”
I asked her why it took her so long to come out with her first album. “I think I spent most of time concentrating on guitar playing and trying to be the best accompaniest that I could be,” she replied. She played lead guitar in the band Dibondoko and, while she helped write the music, she didn’t write the lyrics.
“Once the band broke up I realized I did have lyrics that were coming out and a musical expression that I hadn’t been able to explore with the band.”
Doo-Kingue’s second album, Gris, was released last year and is sung entirely in French. She is planning a second English album for release later this year.
Doo-Kingue sings in both of Canada’s national languages and plays acoustic and electric guitar.
“I love both because they’re two very different worlds,” she said. “There’s something about an acoustic because it’s just you and your instrument and whatever your hands are projecting. Whereas electric, you can wail on an electric in a different way. Just the energy too. As much as you can rock on an acoustic, it’s not the same as when you have an amp and the whole electric universe.”
Doo-Kingue is on a cross-Canada tour with her friends Eric Thibodeau on drums and Dylan Kell-Kirkman on bass. She said they will be playing songs from her two albums, as well as her upcoming one.
“If you’re feeling in a ballady kind of mood and want the lights dimmed and to hear slow songs, we can do that,” she said. “Usually it’s a shake your booty kind of show. Even if you’re not dancing outright some part of you is going to twitch.”
Cecile Doo-Kingue plays at the Last Drop on Friday, Mar. 8, at 9 p.m.