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Between Sets with Zakiya Hooker

Saturated in a legacy, ignited by a deep inbred passion, Zakiya Hooker takes the blues from the past and allows the future to extract her signature sound. Influenced by her icon father John Lee, Zakiya directs us out of the crossroads, with her new jewel box Keeping it Real.

Ms. Hooker is a direct and focused vocalist, both in her philosophy of life, and her style. She intermingles her faith and father (John Lee Hooker), crediting both for her journey thus far. This is what makes Ms. Hooker more than just a blues singer. She has a substance and rubber-stamped classic approach, which is controlled in every aspect of her craft. I felt as though Ms. Hooker respects the blues not only as a foundation musically, but as a friend. She stated in our conversation, "The blues will always be here for me." That may be, for she has great trust in the genre that embraced her and her father for so many decades. Blues is part of an adoring and loyal extended family to Zakiya.

Keeping it Real is a direct message towards her philosophy, not just a title of her new spin. The sounds are uncontaminated, driven by an authority that stands by those sounds of years past. Technically secure in performance, the vocals are affluent in tone and flow. The lady sings with a true-to-tone freedom, accompanied by an over the top arrangement.

Although Ms. Hooker offers praise across the marquee for her new project, the underlying influence is her faith. She draws from a strong spiritual attitude, heavy with conviction and compassion. Combine all of these gifts into one, and you develop a deep-seated respect for the life and times of Zakiya Hooker.

One of the most intriguing moments we had in this interview, was her response to my question regarding her crossover from blues to jazz. Ms. Hooker took a gentle outlook along a decisive road, as she elaborated on the consideration of that decision, with one short response. "It was kind of a dream come true to be called a jazzy, blues singer." That one line alone separated her from old school to a new school, blues artist. She went where we all wish we could go, leaping to the next level of her craft. Ms. Hooker does not loath the expedition of the road less traveled. Her temperament and guiding intuition direct that path, however, you met this "Daughter of the Blues" whether from her 1993 spin "Generation of the Blues" or her Pointblank release in 1997 of "Flavors of the Blues." She transformed into a cross-generation diplomat of two worlds...the old versus the new with an attitude to keep it real and focused!

John Lee would be proud and sitting back in amazement that his daughter kept his iconic message alive. Ms. Hooker has respected the past, but resurrected a pulsating future. Between decades, between legacies, between sets, please welcome to the crossroads of two generations, without reservation and with a deep respect ..meet Zakiya Hooker.

JazzReview: Let’s start Zakiya by defining what you present as "pursuing music and life on your own terms." Describe for us your terms.

Zakiya Hooker: The terms are that people have to accept me and my music for what it is.

JazzReview: It’s a well known fact you are the daughter of blues legend John Lee Hooker. Tell us something we don’t know about your father and how it influenced your style of blues.

Zakiya Hooker: Because of the media, there is not much that everyone does not know about my father, but the thing that I admired so much about my father was that he did not let the fact that he could not read nor write deter him from doing what he loved to do, his music. He had a style of music that to this day has not been duplicated. It has been imitated, but no one has been able to hit it on the head and make it sound like John Lee. This is the thing that I think has influenced my music. I have a style that people tell me is not 'pure blues.' Well, I know that it is not traditional in the sense that they speak of, but it is true to who I am. That is what my dad was, true to his music. You either accepted it for what it was or not.

JazzReview: In spinning your sound, I would describe it as old school with a new blues concentration. The soul of the tone is ignited with an up beat attitude, yet has that soft storyteller presentation. I point this out as I felt it more with your interpretation of "Crossroads," a very unique and welcome performance for these ears. Have I described your vocal attitude correctly?

Zakiya Hooker: You are correct in that it has the old school feel. My producer Ollan Christopher is an old school producer who lucky for me, can also do blues and R&B. The storytelling part was easy when it was done by Robert Johnson. He was telling a story about the crossroads where he supposedly sold his soul to the devil for the gift of being the greatest guitar player. It is always good to have a producer who can pull out of you just what the song lyrics need. The music around you also sets the mood. I love giving a song my interpretation and making it mine.

JazzReview: You lived the blues, felt its anger and loves, embraced it through your dad, his music and yours, and so if you please, give us your thoughts and description of the blues and its attitude.

Zakiya Hooker: I love the blues because it is always there to put your sorrows or happiness in and turn them into feelings that you can deal with through the music. The blues will always be here for me. It is not just the traditional blues it is all the wonderful styles of music that got there start from the blues. To me the blues is like a bridge, it allows us to cross over to the other side of whatever has us down and feeling BLUE.

JazzReview: Your husband, Ollan Bell, produced this new disk Keeping it Real. How did this project come to be and was it unique to have your special person by your side on the project?

Zakiya Hooker: This project was a long time coming. Ollan and I both love Buenos Aires (BA) so Ollan had this idea to do the CD in BA and use the local musicians. Ollan travels to BA at least twice a year to do shows, teach vocals and produce artist over there. It was hard sometimes because he had to deal with the language barrier, not only the musicians, but also the background vocalist. He learned enough Spanish to get the job done.

Ollan did nine of the songs in BA and the other four in the states. He approached me about doing a song in Spanish. You can hear the fruits of our efforts in the Spanish song "Desconfio." Ollan will be leaving for BA to pull together personnel for a tour he is setting up in August under our company Boogie With The Hook Records." We will be there for about two weeks.

It is great to have your soul mate working side by side with you. The feeling of having that common ground between the two of you is really a blessing. It helps keep a marriage strong. We are a team and most of all, we are friends.

JazzReview: How was the crossover to jazz for you? Did you feel the connection?

Zakiya Hooker: It was kind of a dream come true to be called a 'jazzy, blues singer.' I have always loved the ladies of jazz. They are the most elegant and beautiful women of the music world. I wanted to be like them, but I also wanted to do the music I love the most, blues. So when Ollan and I do the music, this is the focus, the combining of the two genres.

JazzReview: As a writer I am most interested in your injection of the spoken word. Tell us about the art form and what brought you to share it within your craft.

Zakiya Hooker: I have always loved the spoken word, and the written word. The thing I really like about the spoken word is that it teaches me something new each and every day. If we just listen and remember that God gave us two ears and one mouth. As a child, I always had something to say. As a black female blues artist, I have seen what is happening to the blues in the music industry. It is hard for the black male in the blues field so it is even harder for the black female. I find that it helps me to deal with it if I talk about it, and some of the other social ills. I like to include small bits in my live performances.

JazzReview: Your debut spin Another Generation of the Blues in 1993 was a breakthrough for you. How do you compare yourself now to back then?

Zakiya Hooker: I have grown quite a bit from that CD to this one. It took hard work and a thick skin because Ollan did not give any slack. Each subsequent CD helped me grow vocally and gave me more confidence in my music. When I listen to the CD’s now, I hear the growth that has taken place with me as a vocalist and performer.

JazzReview: As I was listening to your dad’s classic blues slice, "One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer," I wondered how you felt performing his work. Is there an anecdote behind this cut?

Zakiya Hooker: This has always been a favorite of mine. I loved to hear his rough, gruff voice as the bartender. It was a get up a dance song and I wanted to have some of my dad’s songs on my CD. I have fun doing this song. I guess the story behind the song is in the lyrics. That’s all I will say.

JazzReview: Robert Johnson’s "Crossroads" is classic. Your performance gave a new signature to it yours. A unique blend of the vocal textures you have crafted, and the story telling technique do imperative to a piece of this caliber. Who selected this cut for the album and talk about the arrangement process?

Zakiya Hooker: We started doing the song on our live shows because I really liked the song. I always like to take a song and do it my way. I stay true to the original song but I need to sing it so it fits my interpretation of the song. When we did it on live shows it was a song that always got folks up dancing, so when we started working on the CD, we decided to put it on as one of the cuts. The funk feel of the song came from our guitarist Bobby Young. My dad used to call him Jimi Hendrix because of his appearance and his style of playing. The version on the CD came about one day when Ollan and Tony were in our studio and just fooling around. They used tambourines and the Old National guitar sound.

JazzReview: How has Keeping it Real been received by the public thus far? Did it meet your expectations?

Zakiya Hooker: The CD is not out yet, but I have been getting some very positive feedback from people who have received their copies. Yes, it did meet our expectations. We have made good music and been true to our craft.

JazzReview: Who were the main players on the spin? Who, other than your husband, had a dramatic influence on this album?

Zakiya Hooker: Each of the songs, if you notice, has a different feel. That’s because we used both American and Argentine musicians. I guess the major ones would be my musicians from Argentina as they are on nine cuts out of the thirteen. The Americans, who had an effect because they laid the groundwork for the Argentine musicians to follow, would be Bobby Young and Anthony Cook. All the sweet synth sounds you hear are from Tony, one of the best guitar synth players I have known.

JazzReview: No project is completed without a support system. As your cut "Over the Top" explains, what got you over the top?

Zakiya Hooker: What got me over the top was first off, God, secondly just loving myself, and thirdly my husband, my sons, my family, friends, and my dogs.

JazzReview: So Zakiya, you find yourself at another crossroad. What is next, now that the fourth chapter of your vocal legacy is complete?

Zakiya Hooker: Well, the next big thing for me is retirement from my 9-5. I will be out of there on April 1, 2010 and then it is all about the music and enjoying the rest of my life. We have already started to think about the next CD. This will be done totally in BA.

JazzReview: Now for the toughest questions you’ll ever face Where do you go to enjoy live blues?

Zakiya Hooker: In the Bay Area there are not many clubs left to enjoy live blues bands. We have Velma’s and Biscuits, and Blues in San Francisco

JazzReview: What stimulates you in life, music, love?

Zakiya Hooker: In life, just knowing that God is in my life and making me the kind of person that I am. In music, being blessed to have a spouse that has the same love for music, and more, that I have. Being able to share my gift with others and just being inside the music. In love, being able to transcend the physical and learn what real love is really about.,,the kind of love that stands the test of time!

JazzReview: The one thing you can’t live without?

Zakiya Hooker: My one passion outside of my work and husband is really two passions, making jewelry and wrapped up in a blanket watching horror movies.

JazzReview: My favorite dish to cook is?

Zakiya Hooker: My mother taught us very early in life to cook so I can go in the kitchen and cook up a good ole' soul food meal and more. When I married, I cooked for my husband and three children. I now try to steer clear of the kitchen.

JazzReview: Who would you call the "wild child" of blues today?

Zakiya Hooker: I have to think about that. Being a woman, I automatically thought women, but it could be a man also.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Zakiya Hooker
  • Interview Date: 7/1/2009
  • Subtitle: Keeping Blues Real And In Focus .
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