Q&A with strong and versatile vocalist Zakiya Hooker, carrying the blues torch confidently into the new generation

"Blues is a part of all music. The younger generation has reached back and infused the blues in their music of today. Each generation has to grow up to realize how important the Blues is to their music and understand how it broadens their sound and feel of their music."

Zakiya Hooker: Keeping The Blues Real

Her newest 9-tracks album, “Bluesman’s Journey” (2023) was produced by her husband veteran R&B artist Ollan Christopher in the Douglasville, GA  based Boom Boom Studio that Christopher co-founded with her father, John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Studio. “Bluesman’s Journey” literally brings it all back home for an artist who has toured and recorded internationally, from her childhood home of Detroit to South America, Europe and beyond. Zakiya Hooker was born in the Motor City - Detroit, Michigan - but she was also born into the blues. You could even say she had a front-row seat to the best the genre had to offer, right in her own living room - her dad was the renowned blues giant, John Lee Hooker. The blues has literally been with her from birth. Zakiya was privileged to see and hear some of the greats that shaped the history of the Blues, as we know it. To be the daughter of a living legend is a major obstacle; to choose to follow in his footsteps is a major undertaking. But rather than relying on her father, Zakiya has pursued life, and music, on her own terms, overcoming personal tragedy and skepticism along the way. But you know what they say: “The fruit never falls too far from the tree.”                                           (Photo: Zakiya Hooker born into the blues)

Zakiya made her debut performance in 1991 with her legendary father at the Kaiser Center Theatre in Oakland, CA. Since then, she has gone on to perform shows with the likes of Etta James, Charles Brown, John Hammond, Taj Mahal, Charlie Musselwhite and many more, at the world-famous Fillmore Auditorium, The San Francisco Blues Festival, The Monterey Jazz & Blues Festival, The Avignon Blues Festival in France, the Copenhagen Blues Festival, and The Chicago Blues Festival. Zakiya has graced the cover of several well-known trade magazines including Billboard. Single, “Bluesman’s Journey” (2023) is a tribute to the trials and tribulations my father had on his journey to achieve his dream. It tells a story of struggle, loneliness and finally reaching his dream. Zakiya says: "On a hot summer day as I danced to the music of my dad and his band rehearse on our front porch, I danced with my little plaid dress swaying to the rhythm of good ole blues music. My belt was broken on one side while the other end moved to the beat.. The music flowed through my body and I smiled and thought "THAT'S MY DADDY"."

 

Interview by Michael Limnios                Zakiya Hooker, 2020 interview @ blues.gr

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

I have learned to be open to listening to ideas, criticism and making changes. I have learned to be humble and kind and to always be encouraging to and willing to help others on their musical journey.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

The coming together of fellow musicians and vocalist who form a musical family that creates good music.

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

I say a little prayer for me and all the others involved.

How do you want the music to affect people?

I want them to listen to the words of my music and let them know a little about me through my words and music.

"Blues is a part of all music. The younger generation has reached back and infused the blues in their music of today. Each generation has to grow up to realize how important the Blues is to their music and understand how it broadens their sound and feel of their music." (Photo: Zakiya Hooker, 2023)

You’ve one more release titled “Bluesman’s Journey”. How did your relationship with the Blues come about?

My relationship with the blues began when I was born. There was always my dad’s music playing in our home. His rehearsals were held at our home, so we always had blues around us. We also got to meet a lot of the old blues artist who came to the house. At the time the blues community was small, so all the artist stayed in touch with each other, so it was not uncommon to get visits from blues artist who are now legends.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “Bluesman’s Journey” (2023)?

Yes, the cd was recorded in Georgia and California, so it took some time to get it done. I wrote the song about six years ago. I was going through some of my old songs and found it. The paper it was on was beginning to turn yellow from age. It was meant for me to find it. There is also a video on YouTube. We filmed the entire video in my backyard.

What is the role of Blues in today’s society?

The role of the blues in today’s society to me, as an African American, is to connect us to our past and remind us that blues is the connection between the past and the present.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues singer/musician?

As a person I can’t say I had any obstacles except getting through each day as a single mother of three boys. As an artist sometimes it seemed that my last name was the biggest obstacle. People thought that I should do the type of blues my dad did, they did not consider me to be purist blues. There was skepticism on some folk’s mind that I was just a fly by night hanging onto my dad’s coat tails. I was not taken seriously. I have learned patience. I have developed a tough skin and the determination to keep on doing my music, my way.

"My spirit is what guides me in the way I treat people and lets me know right from wrong. My music is how I express my life and experiences and share them with the world. The meaning of life I don’t know. I only know that I am here for a short period of time and I should leave something behind that will keep me alive in people’s mind and heart." (Zakiya Hooker / Photo by Maurice Thompson)

What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

To understand that music is our gift and blessing from the Supreme Being. Music is life and if we are fortunate enough to be able to do it until our time is up on this earth we have lived a life well lived.

Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music?

Blues is a part of all music. The younger generation has reached back and infused the blues in their music of today. Each generation has to grow up to realize how important the Blues is to their music and understand how it broadens their sound and feel of their music.

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

The Blues is the oldest and original root of all music.

Why do you think that John Lee Hooker music continues to generate such a devoted following?

My father’s music was and is his story. It is the story of all people in the world. We all have trials, tribulation; heartache & heartbreak, joy pain and all the emotions that we as human beings share. All this is in my father’s music and in the fiber of everyone on this earth.

What was the best advice John Lee Hooker ever gave you and which memory from your father makes you smile?

The best advice my father gave me was to be true to myself and follow my heart when doing my music. He told me to be myself and not try to do blues the way that other people thought I should do it. When I think of my father I remember my father sitting in his chair when we were children and watching the ballgame. He would always roast peanuts for the game. He would always burn the peanuts up but we did not care we ate them anyway. We just loved spending that quality time with him. I remember how kind he was and how funny he was. He had a smile and a laugh that lit up the room wherever he was. My heart becomes full when I think of my father. I see that smile and hear his laugh.

What moment changed your music life the most?

When I got to share the stage with my dad (John Lee Hooker).

"The role of the blues in today’s society to me, as an African American, is to connect us to our past and remind us that blues is the connection between the past and the present."

(Photo: Zakiya Hooker and the late great bluesman John Lee Hooker)

What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Doing music was my dream, so I guess just being blessed to be able live out my dream. Music was and is the highlight of my life and career.

What would you say characterizes Oakland/California blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

It would be the feel and the rhythm that each state gives to the way that region plays the blues Oakland/California has a R/B feel to their blues.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Yes. More and more young people are discovering the blues and taking the blues into the future. I am very pleased to see more of our young Black artist accepting the blues and adding that youthful feel that will always keep the blues alive.

What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I think that soul is something that does not require a technique. Technique comes from what you learn in school or working with other musicians. This shapes your music and how you play it. At the end of the day soul is always the first ingredient in what makes your music you.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

My spirit is what guides me in the way I treat people and lets me know right from wrong. My music is how I express my life and experiences and share them with the world. The meaning of life I don’t know. I only know that I am here for a short period of time and I should leave something behind that will keep me alive in people’s mind and heart.

Zakiya Hooker - Home

(Photo: Zakiya Hooker was privileged to see and hear the greats that shaped the history of the Blues)

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