We asked Karima Walker to glance out the window of her tour vehicle and describe what she saw.
“So much green! Kudzu and rivers with running water, and when you can see the earth it’s these flashes of bright red clay," she relays. "We haven’t washed the windshield since this morning so it’s covered in bug guts. The van is a complex layer system of stickers, food in various states of edibility, our belongings and our bodies. There are six of us in here!”
That’s quite an expressive answer to a relatively simple question, but exactly what we expected from the Tucson-based folk singer. Rather than a mundane and road-weary reply, she took the time to paint a picture for us, as she does in her quiet and elegant songs. Walker is touring with the inventive music collective, Human Behavior. Both acts will pour from their bug-splattered tour vehicle and into Alley Kat tonight, where they’ll perform with Austin’s Adam Busch and locals Radio Flyer and My Pizza My World.
“I have never played in Houston! In fact I don’t believe I’ve performed in Texas before, so it’s going to be completely new,” Walker says. “The lineup looks great! I’m excited to play to a new room and group of people. I don’t have very many expectations, but you always hope for connection, for people to listen and enjoy what you’re sharing.
“I don’t know much about the Houston music scene, but I did play in Tucson with My Pizza My World and that show was a lot of fun," she adds. "They have so much positive energy! I met them just before I left for my month long solo tour, the first of its kind, and really enjoyed picking up the nitty gritty details about touring, where they were going next and how the drives had been,” Walker continues. “The more I do this, the more people I find doing, or people who have done, what I am doing. That’s one of my favorite things about touring, it’s this rad micro-community-economy that gets richer the more I get out and connect. That’s another hope for being in Houston, to broaden that community, revisit with acquaintances that hopefully become friends as your paths keep crossing.”
If you’re interested in forming that sort of bond with Walker, you should know she brings some special qualities to your new friendship. For instance, her guitar playing is graceful, almost serene. The aforementioned songwriting skills recall Steinbeck in that they employ no more than the well-chosen words necessary to create an impactful story. And, possibly best of all, those lyrics are delivered by an achingly exquisite voice that we can’t wait to hear live tonight.
Walker says she started performing five short years ago while living in Chicago. She has no formal music training, but learned guitar and banjo at a folk school in the Windy City.
“That’s probably why I make music that sits under the folk umbrella. It was through that community and tradition that I had access to classes and a supportive place to learn,” she says. “There have been little seeds of encouragement throughout my life for sure. Friends encouraging me to sing or watching people I knew making music and I was always being drawn to that. But I didn’t start doing it for myself until kind of recently. The stars aligned in Chicago where I had a lot of time, access to the resources I needed and a rough couple years to process.”
Since then, Walker’s shared her work on 2012’s a good year and on a pair of recent releases, What the Fire Knows, recorded almost two years ago on Jeju Island in South Korea, and Take Your Time. The albums were both released months apart in 2015, but Take Your Time was recorded in January of this year.
“I recorded What the Fire Knows right before leaving Jeju, like just a few days before I moved back to the States. So some of the recording and all the mixing and mastering happened over email. Lots of life and adjusting to the U.S. happened too, when I got back,” she says.
“I am so proud of (Take Your Time)! It’s funny how you can be so proud of something and yet also so aware of ways to improve it now that it’s out in the world," Walker continues. "One thing about recording in general, at least so far, is that no matter how pleased I am with a record, they still feel like works-in-progress.
“Take Your Time does feel different though. Shout out to Catherine at 513 Analog, hands down the most comfortable and exciting recording process for me. I was able to more fully explore a spaciousness in the songs, while increasing their scale. They feel like windows for me as I keep growing as an artist, windows to new places. I wrote a lot of them in the year after coming back from Korea, out in the desert, north of Tucson. I let the songs sit open and thought a lot about what happens when you overwork a song. Lyrically speaking anyhow. And I started thinking about colors and textures more with some new pedals and tools.
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"With what I want songs to convey, I suppose I am always choosing how much of and what of myself to share," she said. "I want them to be ultimately hospitable, even if they’re alienating or sparse. Some of my songs ask you to slow down, to consider sadness and beauty as being together close at hand.”
The tour dates are winding down, with only Austin, Denton, Amarillo and Phoenix remaining on this run. While she’s spent time across the globe, Walker said she hasn’t been to the southern U.S. much and feels a bit like a foreigner in these current travels. She said making the trek with fellow Arizonians Human Behavior has helped immensely.
“I have learned so much from Human Behavior - the rhythm of tour and the cycle of making a record. Also, making creative and band decisions together. I’ve found good friends, around whom I can be totally myself. I can take up lots of space, look like an idiot and then we get to play music together every night. I am so lucky to join up with this excellent group of humans. And those things I listed, these are so important for growing as an artist too.”
Karima Walker performs with tourmates Human Behavior and Adam Busch, Radio Flyer and My Pizza My World, 9 o’clock tonight at Alley Kat Bar & Lounge, 3718 Main Street. Admission is $5.