RAW SPIRIT: Blues/funk vocalist seeks to lighten hearts in tough times
In May 2001, while she was still a resident of New York City, then-aspiring singer/songwriter Kate Becker spent three weeks camping on a remote southern Arizona wildlife refuge when she stumbled upon a party in a gulch that included several talented musicians.
Becker's experience at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, located off Interstate 19 between Tucson and Nogales in Sasabe, opened her eyes to not only the beauty of the Sonoran Desert but that of the people who inhabit it.
"I was amazed at the quality of music and those who were living here," said Becker, who today fronts her own Tucson-based blues/funk band called Kate Becker and the Zodiacs. "I fell so deeply in love with the desert, although I couldn't imagine moving here at first."
From 7-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Becker's group will play at the sixth annual Raw Spirit Festival, where dozens of organic and health-food vendors, among others, will congregate Friday through Sunday to sell their products and converse with the public at Watson Lake Park in Prescott.
While Becker will sing live at the event, she will also have a booth set up to sell "Kate's Magik," her own unique line of aromatherapy essential oil blends, and copies of her band's new CD, "Soft Revolution."
"I feel strongly about people gathering for a good cause, and Prescott is close to home for me," Becker said in a phone interview this week from Tucson.
Becker and the Zodiacs, who will perform on the Watson Lake Stage, plan to play nearly every track off the "Soft Revolution" album, which was released in May.
"The songs are very inspirational," Becker said of the Zodiacs' latest offering. "The album is about accepting and working through challenges and conflicts to achieve personal growth, heal yourself and become wiser."
Not long after she left the wildlife refuge and returned home to New York, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. The disaster made her think long and hard about the path she was traversing in life. At that moment, Becker said she thought about relocating to a smaller place that had a greater appreciation for music. She soon found that out West in Tucson.
"It was almost like an enlightenment - the push that I needed," she said.
Becker describes her current band's music as "a melding of styles conjured in the Arizona desert, borrowing elements of 70's funk and fusion, vocal jazz and desert noir."
She said that some of Tucson's top musicians made special appearances on "Soft Revolution" "to create an intriguing sound-scape."
A vocalist and writer of melodies and lyrics, Becker was born in San Francisco to a Swiss mother and a father from New York. She spent her formative years in Bern, Switzerland, and New York City.
Her mother, Anita Becker, worked for the Jazz Festival Bern, an international event that gave Kate the opportunity to meet and listen to many jazz and blues greats, such as B.B. King.
"I was exposed to jazz and blues from a young age," Kate said.
Becker would move on to spend her early 20s in New York City, where she became well acquainted with jazz musicians just by listening to them. But it was not until several years later that Becker really got going as an artist in her own right.
From 1999-2001, Becker played host to, performed and produced a monthly show at "Collective: Unconscious on the Lower East Side of Manhattan," where she welcomed in an eclectic group of artists to share the stage.
However, in 2002, Kate abruptly moved to Tucson and, after a couple of years, began collaborating with dynamic upright bassist Gerald Massoud. Kate and Gerald wrote and produced her self-titled debut album, "The Kate Becker Project," in veteran engineer Jim Brady's studio. Brady, who has engineered music for Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, helped blend sultry jazz, poetry, blues and a speakeasy-style cabaret into Becker's tracks.
"I look at music as medicine," Becker said. "When I write a song, I try not to be too self-indulgent. I look at it as, 'How can I contribute some love, hope or faith to help people with what they're dealing with?'"
Shortly following the album's release in 2008, Becker got together with the Zodiacs, which feature Stuart Oliver, a Tucson-based producer, on guitar and vocals; Mike Hieber on bass; Aaron Emery on drums; and Andy Cook on percussion.
"After the album was finished, I was ready for something new," Becker said. "I wanted to write more joyful music that makes people want to dance and smile."
Becker made a conscious effort to make the Zodiacs' music more upbeat. And it reflects her most current influences: Tim Buckley, Sly and the Family Stone, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson and Billie Holiday.
"I would like to stay in this genre, although I would like to do more of a rock album," she said.
To listen to tracks from Kate Becker and the Zodiacs, visit http://katebeckermusic.com/Music.html or visit the Raw Spirit Festival this weekend, where she will have CDs available for purchase both during and after the show.