Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chicago musician Kate Quinby releases debut album, will play June 7 at Subterranean

Photo by Wallo Villacorta

For her debut album, "Tribute to Water," Chicago-based world folk musician Kate Quinby was inspired by something that connects us all - water.

Quinby,, and her five-piece band will perform June 7 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago, as part of a CD release party for "Tribute to Water." They will incorporate live painting by Ecuadorian artist Noy Balda into their set.

Dramatis Personae along with Ode and Antony & the Tramps also are on the bill. Tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Quinby about the album and her other activities.

Q - Great to talk to you. Your debut album is called "Tribute to Water." No matter where one lives, we are all dependent on water. Is that one of the main themes of the album? What inspired you to make the album?
The theme "Tribute to Water" found me over the course of the years. I’ve traveled to different places sometimes by choice, sometimes not, fleeing from New Orleans floods, flying over oceans, watching people drink water from faucets and from dirty defunct wells in the third world. 

After all this and more, water seemed to deserve a tribute, an homage, for the ways in which she sustains us. Funny enough, the phrase "tribute to water" never appears in the lyrics but encapsulates a running theme of human interdependency that appears song to song.  

The album is comprised of a selection of songs I've written over the past five or so years. They seem to be unified by the duality of inner and outer exploration. 

The former is my introspective and personal side.  The latter refers to the ways in which travel and exploration in turn shape our identity and place in this world.

Q - What made you want to sing the album in three languages? How did you hook up with the musicians on the album, such as Camilo Carabajal?

I didn't necessarily plan to sing in three languages, but, well, English being my first language I guess it makes sense that I'd sing for the most part in English :) The tune "Sin Parpadear" which means "Without Blinking" is the full first song I ever wrote and composed in Spanish, the only other language I speak fluently. 

This song is a tribute to the lights of Buenos Aires. It conjures up that sentiment when you leave a place and are desperately hoping that the memories won't slowly fade like blinking lights. 

Lastly, the song "Tribute to Water" incorporates a few words in Acholi, a tribal language in northern Uganda. The chorus repeats "rubanga" a word for God pre-colonization and "mego" which means mother.   

As for collaborating with musicians on this album, I couldn't be more thrilled with the level of commitment, talent, and generosity I experienced from literally everyone who played/sang on the album. Many of them are close friends and people who came highly recommended in Chicago. 

The album does feature two guest artists from outside Chicago. One is my old friend Michael Girardot, who emailed his trumpet part from New Orleans.  The other is Camilo Carabajal. 

In 2007, while living in Buenos Aires, I frequented this place called La Catedral, a warehouse with the most provocative, clandestine feel. People would gather to dance the tango, laugh by candlelight, and listen to live traditional folklore music. 

I was asked to open for Camilo's band at the time, which I did. Unbelievably, five years later when I started the album I thought, "I wonder if Camilo would remember me and be willing to play Bombo Leguero on a song?" 

It's proof that asking never hurts. He said yes to both questions and ended up emailing me his part from Argentina! 

I highly recommend anyone reading check out his band "Tremor" based out of Buenos Aires. They are part of an evolving world trend of mixing electronica and traditional music/folklore, not something to be missed!

Q - What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

Since the age of about 14, I have been writing songs, singing in choirs, singing back up in bands, writing lyrics/melodies/harmonies for other people's studio projects, everything from folk to hip hop. Finally, the time came for me to refocus on my own music and draw from my collection of almost 20 songs to create a mosaic of an album. 

Many of the songs on the album differ in style and sound. I think this has allowed me to explore my vocal abilities and my sensibilities with regards to where I fit in the categories and genres of modern music. 

Without consciously doing so, the album integrates jazz, folk, Argentine folklore, and soul. From here, I hope to continue to find my musical niche while constantly reinventing my sound.

Q - I understand that 50 percent of all album sales will go to the Dwon Madiki Partnership, an organization in Uganda that you co-founded. How will the money be used? What made you want to start the group?

I knew since the beginning that I'd want to give a portion of the album sales to the Dwon Madiki Partnership (DMP).  In about 2006 at Loyola Chicago, a group of us in conjunction with Caroline Akweyo, an immigrant from Uganda, co-founded DMP. 

The organization is governed and coordinated by locals in Uganda and funded mostly by benefits organized by college students at Loyola Chicago. The program sponsors the education of 17 children who have been orphaned by the conflict in northern Uganda. 

We have also put an emphasis on art exchange by exhibiting their drawings/poems in various locations throughout Chicago.

Because DMP is such a small community based organization with very little overhead, the funds go directly to the children's school fees, uniforms, school supplies, as well as the salary of our one staff member on the ground in Gulu, Uganda.

For anyone interested, you can get more of the back story on the website,

Q - Do you see yourself always using your music to further a social cause? Do you think more musicians need to do that?

I definitely expect to always be grappling with how to best integrate my music and my work in social and political justice. It's not a clear cut path. I'm only just beginning to discover how to best spread awareness in the least 'preachy' way possible.  

It's hard to stomach the countless ways in which people's rights, especially those of children and the most vulnerable, are violated on a regular basis. What's even harder to begin to see clearly is the unique role that the United States has played in perpetuating these economic, political and militaristic systems of violence worldwide.

I do think many people are beginning to recognize the power of music in building awareness and funding social initiatives around the glove. I have definitely been inspired by musicians who fearlessly did/do integrate social awareness into their music careers, like Joan Baez from the '70s and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. 

In the words of Joan Baez, "If people have to put labels on me, I'd prefer the first label to be human being, the second label to be pacifist, the third to be folk singer."

Q - What would you like those who come out to the June 7 show to come away with?

Above all, I hope people smile, dance, have a good time, and leave inspired to make art in new ways and to widen their horizons. We plan to bring performers and art forms to Subterranean that you'd never expect to find there. 

It will be a thriller of a night and we hope you can all make it!