Q&A with Algerian born (France-based) Karim Albert Kook - born with the blues, the adventures in music of peace

"For my part, the blues contribute to the mixture of communities they come from Europe (French Huguenots and Calvinists, German Lutherans, Irish Catholic, Askhenaz Jews or Greek Italian Sephardim) from Africa by human trafficking by deporting ethnic groups who weren't brought together so quickly ... the blues turned into a universal musical playground."

Karim Albert Kook: The Blues Ambassador

Karim Albert Kook born in Alger and arrived in France very young, trying to fight a bad infection who unfortunately changed his life (he had to learn a new way of moving). He’s nine years old when he discovers the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the amazing Jimi Hendrix. Then came a magic gift: a guitar given to him by his brother will decide of his destiny. Born with the blues, it’s a real revelation: Music, of any kind, will be his goal! He’s sixteen years old, when he has the chance to meet Jerry Cooper, a friend and a partner of Fela, the Texas guitar player Bill Thomas, Paul Orta from Austin, Bernard and the late and great Luther Allison. All of them will be guest on his first release. Now, Karim plays more and more in big venues opening for the famous New York artist Popa Chubby and for the King himself: Mister B.B.

Going back to his roots, the music of Karim Albert Kook turns to oriental melodies, mixing world music with a small touch of blues. Kora, Hajouj or mandol bring us on a magic carpet ride through an ever-ending desert with the subtil flagrance of a beautiful lady made of dance and seduction. Snakes charmed by the voice of a desert queen for a world without walls or frontiers but full of difference: a world of adventures, the adventures of words of peace! Karim's new album titled "Il Etait Un Voyage" (2019). Africa and Europe more particularly mix there, on the slide of a dobro or the skin of the percussions and remind us of this human exodus which draws the world of today… A journey through musical encounters, a reflection between doubts and certainties where the East and the West mix.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

Photos by Elie Stephane Azoulay & Karim Albert Kook Archive / All rights reserved

How have the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your vision of the world and the trips you have taken?

As far as I'm concerned, these styles aim to have a critical vision of the world and of our place as a living being on this planet. My discovery of the blues through rock and country music allowed me to go deeper into my personal origins and draw a multitude of influences that I find in my travels whether they are European, American, or African ... history from human migrations to something common ... the American blues is the perfect illustration ...

How do you describe your son, your musical philosophy and your songbook? Where does your creativity come from?

My musical philosophy is based on the fact that we have always found ourselves in conflict situations that clans, of nations, of religions, of colors to exercise our dominion our power over others, the blues is the proof that we have built together strong cultural ties with different geographical origins, it is the musical and artistic reflection of human history… a piece of music played by musicians of various origins who, for a living, will put themselves at the service of a song in a brothel in order to make the audience dance and make everything forget for a while. It's a bit what I try to transcribe in my own way in my songs, to return to this base that was the blues, between Africa and Europe in the tradition of storytellers and travelers who told with road musicians their experiences.

"I find that what escapes us the most in the blues of the past is the essence of the story and its simplicity… we are losing our way on more technical, more sophisticated musical tracks while trying to imitate or keep pure aesthetic structuring as if we were the guardians of the temple… "

What meetings were the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice we have given you?

There have been many decisive meetings, those which put me on this path. When I was a teenager I listened on the radio to a program that played a lot of rock and English blues, it made me want to have more, providence led me on a trip to the Netherlands at a friend's house who then offered me an album of Son House “Death Letter” it was a shock because far from the musical technique required to play the guitar, I discovered the strength of the soul and the power which comes from it clear to get a message across with simple musical elements at first.

Then my meeting with Bill Thomas (American guitarist resident at the time in Paris) in the 90s completed my initiatory journey by bringing down many preconceived ideas on the foundations of this style, my meeting with Luther Alison during gigs in smoky clubs do the rest… Bill and Luther have also agreed to participate in the recording of my first album “Les Choses Ressemblent à ça! "In 1996. However, I was attached to the aesthetic formats of the American blues at the time, until I met BB.King with whom I exchanged a few words to discover my blues, the one that corresponded to my story. I think that's a bit what I understood from these great masters, you have to be authentic in what you are and what you want to convey ...

Are there any memories of concerts, jams, open acts and studio sessions that you would like to share with us?

Indeed, I worked in a small music store not far from my home, the owner of the store knew my admiration for Bill Thomas, one day when I was sick, he called me on the phone and said "you're missing the most beautiful day of your life come quickly to see who is in the store today "obviously I gathered my strength and I drove like crazy to the store to meet the mysterious customer who was none other than Bill and I learned this moment that we were even neighbors this is how very strong links were formed. Thereafter I recorded my first album, I had during the sessions a big health problem, I finished a session in the hospital which put my project on hold for several months after I left. The promise to invite Luther Alison, while I was still recovering he accepted when he came to play, the studio was then irradiated by the energy of man and the power of each of notes from the guitar solo that Luther put on the song "C'est Pas Mon Jour", he added to conclude, "yes! You will be able to say that it is your day ”… I signed just after the session with the Label of Francophone blues of the great Patrick Verbecke and we were successively distributed by Night & day then Dixiefrog the beginning for me of a beautiful adventure on the road of the blues ...

"My discovery of the blues through rock and country music allowed me to go deeper into my personal origins and draw a multitude of influences that I find in my travels whether they are European, American, or African ... history from human migrations to something common ... the American blues is the perfect illustration ..." (Photo: Karim Albert Kook)

What do you miss most today in the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I find that what escapes us the most in the blues of the past is the essence of the story and its simplicity… we are losing our way on more technical, more sophisticated musical tracks while trying to imitate or keep pure aesthetic structuring as if we were the guardians of the temple… I want to imagine that the new generations will bring their touches, their visions, their journeys… keeping the blues alive means doing it and letting it live according to its heart, its cultural origins all as did the American pioneers who became our masters ... there can be no blues without social claims of justice and rights, if the bases are identical the meetings with the human migratory flows are accelerated by technology in a little less than 200 years the blues conquered the planet because their speech is universal. I only have hope for the future because if my fears are proven there will be no future ...

If you could change something in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would it be?

I would gladly change the way of approaching music from a very young age, by making it more accessible, less elitist… through education remember that music is part of our evolution, each of our steps in life are accompanied by vibrations transcribed into songs or musical compositions developed according to the stages of our existence and the level we need… it would be good to remember from time to time that our art is fleeting as our passage on this planet…

Report on the case of the blues in France. What is the most interesting period on the local scene?

The blues in France has never been as active and creative as it is today, but we owe it to our pioneers, such as Bill Deraime, Patrick Verbeke, Benoît Blue Boy, Paul Personne, Eddy Mitchel and of course Johnny Hallyday who succeeded to make the big gap between the blues, rock and the French variety but who is the artist who to work the most for the exposure of the blues to a wider audience.

"I would gladly change the way of approaching music from a very young age, by making it more accessible, less elitist… through education remember that music is part of our evolution, each of our steps in life are accompanied by vibrations transcribed into songs or musical compositions developed according to the stages of our existence and the level we need… it would be good to remember from time to time that our art is fleeting as our passage on this planet…" (Photo: Karim Albert Kook)

What are the lines that connect the Blues to folk or traditional music from North Africa? What are the similarities?

There is in the American Blues, the sub-Saharan African line which by its history is linked to North Africa first by the Tuaregs who traded but were also Bearers of cultural exchange between north and south, which we find strong features in the traditional Rai, the Algerian Chaabi, and of course the Gnawa for the Moroccans or for the Algerians the Diwan which is found mixed in Mauritania the canvas of spider formed in this way is found among the Malian Fulani who have unfortunately served to fuel the human trafficking market which has raged for almost 300 years as much to say that these people did not leave empty handed with Berber- Celtic influences, in musical illustration many ternary blues rhythms merge with those of Kabylia or Chawis of Aurès which for some are even a malicious wink to Irish rhythms when to riffs and melodies of songs we find formats of questions and answers that the blues Americans kept.

What is the impact of blues and music in general on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

For my part, the blues contribute to the mixture of communities they come from Europe (French Huguenots and Calvinists, German Lutherans, Irish Catholic, Askhenaz Jews or Greek Italian Sephardim) from Africa by human trafficking by deporting ethnic groups who weren't brought together so quickly ... the blues turned into a universal musical playground.

Let's take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go all day?

It would be the day when my press secretary announced that I was selected to open for B.B. King and of course the time of this opening which would upset my musical perspectives as well as my vision of the blues.

Karim Albert Kook - Home

(Photo: Karim Albert Kook)

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