The soulful blues-shouting mama is a time-honored tradition in the genre. And Kaz Hawkins seems on a mission to keep the tradition alive. Although the woman herself hails from Northern Ireland, she boasts a strong and resilient voice that comes straight from the Mississippi delta. And if the combination of an Irish background and a heavy, gospel-tinged timbre puzzles you, you’re not alone. Kaz herself confesses that she doesn’t fully understand how she came by such a huge voice. “I don’t know where on earth this feeling of the blues I have in me came from, or where this big gospel voice I have came from. But for me gospel and the blues take me to a place where I feel safe, where I can explore anything.”Maybe knowing the origin of Kaz Hawkins’ breathtaking voice is less about exploring geography than about exploring her soul. And what better place to start than the moment her soul first surrendered to the blues.
Living The Blues, Then Singing them
Kaz earned her stripes in the blues world the old way – by enduring the kind of nightmarish early life most of us will fortunately never experience. Suffering through a number of obstacles including domestic violence and drug addiction, the young Kaz Hawkins lived the blues years before she sang them.
In trying times, many find the safe haven of intimate friends. In Kaz’s case those friends were strong, unyielding women whom she’d never met in person. Their names were Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin and Sarah Vaughan. The safe haven these ladies provided was called the blues, a place Kaz describes as her “secret place. And that’s where I go when I sing the blues or write my own song.”
And just like that, Kaz had found her voice. But the journey was far from over.
The connection between music and faith is strong in the history or popular music and especially in the blues. In Kaz’s case this means adopting elements of gospel music in her unique voice. But it also means encompassing genuinely spiritual components into her soul. For Kaz is more than just a matter of using the blues as a tool for expressing anguish and horror. It also means crying out in joy and, as Kaz puts it, “giving back to the music” that saved her. Having lost everything, she felt the only thing she had was music. And she saw her calling as a roots and blues singer as a life of giving back. She calls it “blues Karma.”
The song “Soul Superstar” is one she cites as having an autobiographical basis. It is, in Kaz’s words, “about me growing up as a child, standing in the wings, waiting for the my time to shine. I want to stand as an example to those women out there, who have maybe given up on their dream.”
Getting the World Ready
Kaz’s latest dream has been joyfully delivered to the public in the form of her latest album, Get Ready. When asked about the ethos of the album, she spoke of the title track, a rollicking and relentlessly buoyant tune which was, weirdly enough, written about the riots in Belfast a year prior to the album’s release.
“Shake” is the most energetic tune and the best illustration of her Kaz’s preternatural skill. But the softer, more intimate “Believe with Me” tells a more captivating tale of loss and redemption. All in all, there’s much to love about Get Ready.
And Kaz knows quite a lot about finding hope in the darkest of days.