With the music market trending towards folk-pop and new country, it’s not a particularly easy time to be singing the blues.
Try being a female blues musician.
Kat Danser is one of the few triple-threats out there — a blues woman who writes, plays and sings her own music. She can count on one hand the other Canadian females who do what she does: Suzie Vinnick, Shakura S’Aida, Rita Chiarelli and Pura Fe.
While there’s seemingly plenty of space for new women to enter the blues world, Danser said, “Why would I mentor a female artist if she has no opportunities to play?”
For every 20 spots available at a blues festival, she estimates only one is given to a blues woman who also performs on her own instrument and writes her own material.
No bones about it, “it’s a sexist industry,” added Danser, who performs Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Golden Circle in Red Deer.
Not only are female artists relegated to singing other people’s material, she believes it’s harder to be an accepted songsmith in the blues industry if your sound isn’t electric-guitar based and your lyrics don’t conform to the template of: your love’s done you wrong; your life’s going down the tank; or you need to stick it to the Man.
Danser’s latest album, Baptized by the Mud, contains blues songs that depart from the expected.
Some ask listeners some pretty deep questions. Danser also holds herself accountable in many of them. For instance, Who Will You Be When the Sun Goes Down? revolves around the soul-searching question “Am I the kind of person I thought I would be at the end of the day? ” said Danser, while None of Us Are Free makes the statement: “If one of us is chained, none of us are free.”
Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep takes a traditional song from the Catholic Book of Worship, adds new lyrics and a soft, salsa-inspired rhyme scheme. “It says, ‘Mary, don’t you weep. It’s OK, It’s OK … the evil forces in life have been conquered,’” said Danser.
She sees no church associations in a song about the much-maligned Mary Magdalene. “I was raised Catholic, but I haven’t really found a place there, except musically.” The African-American gospel tunes she found in the Catholic Book of Worship struck a chord while she was a child named Kathleen, growing up in southeastern Saskatchewan.
Always possessing a deep voice, she remembers being discouraging from singing by her mother “because she said I sounded like a man.” Danser became a social worker and kept her musical interests at bay until she was in her early 30s.
One day, she ordered a Columbia House blues album and heard 1920s blues artist Bessie Smith perform for the first time.
“I was so moved by the experience, that two weeks later, I’d signed up for guitar lessons — but I found it was taking too long to learn, so I became self-taught.”
Danser has since performed on stages across Canada, including various folk festivals, as well as the 25th Anniversary of Canadian Women in Blues at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
She also recorded four albums, winning recognition from the Blues Underground Network, the International Blues Competition (she was a semi-finalist), the Western Canadian Music Awards, and the Maple Blues Awards (a best new artist nomination).
All the while Danser has been balancing her performing career with an academic one, teaching music at the University of Alberta and continuing her studies as a PhD student.
Although she looks forward to recording her next album, to be released early in 2017, she’s still exploring the dichotomy of church blues in Baptized by the Mud.
While the blues has often been characterized as the devil’s music and the gospel as the Lord’s, she doesn’t see a distinction.
“One is preached from behind the pulpit and the other’s from behind the plow,” but Danser said she’s spiritually moved by both.
Carving out a career in blues music has been “immensely” satisfying, added the artist, who particularly likes hearing from people who are touched by her songs.
“It makes me want to continue on.”
Tickets to her 7 p.m. show are $20 from the Golden Circle. For more information, call 403-343-6074.