Saturday, March 31, 2012

Memories of..Kanika Kress..The Funk of a Stratocaster Playin' Sista!

Kanika Kress and Aki Antonia on one of our first long standing gigs ...
Blue Mondays at the Taste Disco Zodiac Room on 64th and Lowe back in the day-day.

Thinking 'bout the Blues... and Women's History Month...
I want to speak about a sister.... that

I played lots of music with....
played many crazy gigs with...
had lots of fun & adventures with... in Musicland...
I still have tapes of how we would get together and practice and jam.
Plus.... we both shared mutual musical dreams of being powerful female instrumental players and songwriters in the music industry.
Singing was fine... but we loved playing music!
I'm thinking about the late Kanika Kress.
Lately I've been hearing her music in my mind... almost as if she's saying...
"Hey Aki, It's Women's History month..Didn't I make a little history?
Didn't we have fun playing the music? Write about me, girl.
Tell 'em 'bout how we Wild women are still rocking out whether we're on one plane or the next."
She's been floating across my mind asking me to check out her music, to play my tapes and find out more about her legacy. So I've been doing just that. I've been discovering some articles on her from the Chicago Suntimes,
The Chicago Tribune and even on Youtube.

Yesterday, I found some video of her playing a Guitarist - Blues Jam at The Chicago Blues Festival on the Crossroads Stage in 1988! This video was just put up in January 2012.
So maybe she's playing real loud on her guitar... up there in Blues heaven.
It's like.. her spirit wants to be heard...
So here we go...
Lets take "A Ride In Stride"....
Kanika was many things...a guitarist, a songwriter... a rocker who played a Stratocaster guitar with an avante-garde energy that was funky and fun! She was a vocalist and entertainer. She was a mother who loved her children and her mother and family as fiercely as she did her music! And...she truly loved and lived in her music.
She loved to play some R&B, Rock, Funk, Folk and some Jazz like Wes Montgomery...and basically anything that the gig called for!
Hey! just call her to the gig and she would be ready to go!
We met right after she was in Girl-a-thon, an all female band in Chicago circa the early 80's. During that time she was also free-lancing with musicians and groups playing R&B music. This musical period included working with Pop Staples and Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers.
Kanika was a serious Buddhist and for many years, she played on the north side at the Buddhist Center.
Kanika also enjoyed playing Folk and Rock music and in the song-writing community.
In the late 70's, she played Rock music in a band called Peace Flower.
When we met... I dug her creative musical energy and the fact that she was a song writer as well as being a performer. And.... because she wrote songs and I was a songwriter, I knew we would hit it off musically!
We were both eclectic in our musical tastes and didn't like musical categories... like when people would (and still ask that weird question) " So do you play R&B or Jazz? you could only play ONE genre and if you played more... there was something wrong with you. You must be a mutant.
Well, we were both weirded out by that limited thinking. We love playing all kinds of music, not just one or the other. In that respect, we were both mutants...
Plus we were both parents who liked to rock out music and that was great!
The other thing I liked about the sista was that Kanika was kinda cosmic, very down to earth and had a style musically and fashion-wise that was uniquely her own.. Like her punked-out...angular cut-'fro, and my punked-out Jherri curled, shaggy fro-hawk...her love for the psychedelic...I loved tie dye..etc..etc...
We both liked to create our own unique fashion flow.... and we enjoyed playing, jamming and songwriting and kicking out some Funk in my living room.
She was on her Strat and I was on my Fender Rhodes. What a blast!
When I got my Fender Rhodes electric piano, it had opened me up to being able to gig more so I had began free-lancing with Jazz and R&B groups and female and male vocalists... and I had began writing music. Almost all of the bands I had played with were all male, so it was refreshing to meet a female guitarist who liked to rock out but also one who could hold down a groove. And one who could really play!
We both dug us some Jimi Hendrix, some Sly & the the Family Stone, Stevie, B.B. King but we just both loved grooving up against a Funk bass line. We appreciated the Blues but we weren't trying to be Blues players per se... Kanika could have been perfectly fine being a funky R&B Rock star! But... here's the reality check: all musicians have to eat and you never know what gig will be a steady paycheck.
In 1981, little did we know out of the blue, that she would be asked to play some sho-nuff Blues on Blue Mondays at the Taste nightclub sponsored by a very enthusiastic and very cool host, 
Ralph Metcalf Jr. So when that happened, she asked to me to be her keyboard player and I said cool. Next I met her French bass player named Cecile Savage and Tony Robinson, her drummer and we were off and running...

And what a motley crew we were at first! Kanika would play all the Pop and R&B and Jazz and Funk that
she could squeeze in before heading down the road to play some Blues.

Cecile had just returned from Paris where she had been playing Blues with Blues musician, Sugar Blue... so she wanted Kanika to play more authentic blues. Cecile would be so livid! She considered herself a Blues woman at that time.... and would just be fussing at Kanika " Play some real Blues!" But we didn't care about all that.
We just wanted play music!
Me? (Moi?), I had grown up hearing Blues all day... I lived right around the corner from Buddy Guy' original Checkerboard Blues club and not too far from Theresa's Blues club.... so I knew bout the real Blues sound from Muddy Waters to Willie Dixon, Lefty Dizz Howling Wolf... all that.... What a blessing!!
And we used to rehearse at my house... so we had been exposed to some real authentic blues along the way.
Kanika had grown up listening to all kinds of African-American Blues players, Rock & Roll and some funky sounding guitar and Bootsy bass from back in the day, so she wasn't feeling the need to be schooled by someone about playing the Blues. Or about playing music. Period!
Shoot!.... the way our economic adventures were at that time... trying to feed a family with music as the mainstay... that could make one play all kinds of blues! With that special bent-note twang that we all knew too well!
But.... in real terms, she and I enjoyed playing her songs and kicking out a variety of R&B, Pop, Funk and Rock songs, and just being free to play whatever we chose.
In her band, she might start a set with a song of hers, one I remember so well is....A Ride In Stride...
a song that she would strum so emotionally on her guitar...
then she would get immersed in the lyric and the groove...
then she might roll on into Ride like the Wind by Christopher Cross....
then a little something, something by George Benson...
and then finally I Think You Made Your Move Too Soon... or The Thrill is Gone by B. B. King.
We played many a Monday... at the Taste and it was good! We rocked out and had fun. Eventually we played several other clubs on the southside and at some point,we began to play at Blue Chicago at 536 N Clark.
That was an interesting flow... Multicultural and polite at first, but folks loved the Blues... so Kanika and the band began to grow and was a moment before we got totally down home and free... but Kanika could flow anywhere she went so this room turned out to be great!!
After her appearances at Blue Chicago, she began to really get noticed in the industry and gigs really started to flow in. Around that time, my free-lance musical work was increasing. I began to free-lance with a Jazz vocalist; I was also going back and forth to Minneapolis to play and record with some of my friends on the Minneapolis Jazz set and I was checking out the Prince and Andre Cymone set. So eventually... when my other free-lance music work became too involved, I made the hard decision to leave her band.We still remained musical friends.

Soon, Kanika began playing at many different blues venues in Chicago. Finally her hard work and guitar playing and singing paid off! Her journey led her and her band to the performance stage at the Taste of Chicago!

She was making her name in the music via the blues world. She began traveling to Germany and Spain and began to win praise for guitar playing and singing.

Kanika went on to play at the Chicago Blues Festival 1988 and shared the Crossroads Stage in Grant Park with several other great guitar players..

Check out Kanika's solo video and then pop the link to the Guitar Jam! Yeah!!

She began to get press in the papers such as The Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Reader and was written about in an article in Darnell Pulphus', JAM SESSIONS on "Ladies Singing the Blues". This article by L.A. Swanson talked about the "Renaissance of Blueswomen" at a Blues Women Weekend hosted by Blue Chicago club for two nights.

The event showcased many Blues women including Kanika, Gospel and Blues singer, Zora Young, Audrey Queen Roy and Bonnie Lee as well as the late Valerie Wellington (another young Chicago Blues singer who was gaining popularity singing the Chicago Tribune Ads as a Blues.... in that same time frame of the late 80's and early 1990s).
The article talked about Blues women of the 20's and the 30's including Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith and the 'Resurgence of Blueswomen' in modern day Chicago following the trail blazed by the late Koko Taylor.

This article went on to describe Kanika Kress by saying, "Among the evenings many highlights were the hot licks of Kanika Kress on guitar, who can best be described as a " female Jimi Hendrix." Her reputation as a consummate blues guitarist has grown considerably in the past year, that Eric Clapton gave her the nod to join him on stage at Chicago's Limelight after his soldout concert at the Rosemont Horizon."

Kanika Kress passed away at the young age of 39, in 1993.
Loved her spirit and respected her family...but, I always wanted to remember her as she was in life, both of us laughing, practicing our music, writing our songs... and she chanting her sacred sounds...
Nam myoho renge kyo.....for World love and World Peace....and me, in my Theosophical space of prayer via my musica...

I wanted to remember the rehearsals which were free and unfettered... I wanted to remember us playing in the clubs... rocking out and clowning... in concert... and seeing her reach her goal of performing her music for the world. And so I did. Miss you, Kanika... Go on play that guitar, girl! Sang your songs!

*Source- Jam Sessions - Special Blues Edition Supplemental Guide for the Chicago Blues Festival 1987.

AA331 c2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jazz in Nu Bronzeville... at Norman's Bistro

Jazz in Nu Bronzeville...
I'm sipping on a cherry coke and listening as the lights and shadows play their own night music against the African Masks and raw brick backdrop at Norman's Bistro.
Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and the young musicians are swinging some straight ahead intense jazz. ..
Duke Ellington's Caravan and I Didn't Know What Time It Was ....segues into Footprints....with a bit of Chicago styled atonal bebop layers...
It's a super potent mix of retro-nuevo Jazz in Nu Bronzeville.

Ernest Kahbeer Dawkins's Jam Session on Sunday nights at Norman's Bistro in the bar is a cool musical flight... into some straight ahead intimate Jazz...with Nu Bronzevillian nuances!

Jazz in Nu Bronzeville...

Sketching on a the Sunday night the Open Jam Session with Ernest Khabeer Dawkins.

They were flowing through Footprints...Mr P.C.. A minor Blues and a ballad or 2...

So relaxed, musical and audience friendly...

Tonight's set included on piano: Niles Tate, bass: Mike Lough, drums: Isaiah Spencer, and on trumpet: Ben There was also a vibraphone player who sat in earlier.
Ernest Khabeer Dawkins...caught in the light and shadows as he heads up the open Jam session at Norman's Bistro on Sunday Nights.

All photos and Sketch art by


Aki Antonia

AA 3312012