Monday, July 28, 2008

"Funk This": A Conversation With Soul Legend Chaka Khan

The return of soul legend Chaka Khan

Global soul icon Chaka Khan is back with her first brand new material in a decade. Her album, Funk This, marks a return to her musical roots with Rufus, the 70s band she fronted which launched her career.

The 2007 album is receiving a renewed promotional push after winning a Grammy for Best R&B album earlier this year. Here in a chat with the BBC’s Nadia Dahabiyeh, the diva discusses her heroes, her musical legacy, and how she kicked her drug habit.

Question: Why did you decide to re-release Funk This?

Answer: The album means so much to me that I just cannot let it go. So the least we could do was re-release it. It needs a chance.

Q: The album features a lot of cover versions. How did you chose which songs to re-do?

A: Well, I wanted to cover Two Grey Rooms by Joni Mitchell, but she told me, "no, no, no Chaka. You have to do Lady’s Man — that is the song for you". So I did my spin on Lady’s Man and she liked it a lot.

I wanted to cover her because I want more people to listen to what she has to say. She is so amazing lyrically and musically. Every woman should really get her. She is incredibly empowering and smart and bright and talented.

I did a Jimi Hendrix song Castles Made Of Sand because I feel he is slipping out of memory and I was like, "no, come back!"

And I covered Prince’s Sign O’ The Times because it is a prophetic song. Even though he wrote it some years ago it is still very meaningful now.

Q: When you cover songs do you look for tracks with meaning?

A: Absolutely. I am communicating. I am trying to say something. Music is the highest form of communication because you can go to any country on the planet and sing about love and they will know you are singing about love. That is pretty special.

Q: It’s been 30 years since your first solo album. How has the journey been?

A: It has been a very interesting, full life. My career has been great. I have been blessed to work with some great people.

Q: What have been the highs and lows?

A: Some of the highs were working with Quincy Jones, Miles Davis and Prince. Lows were self-medicating and feeling there was no hope for my future. Now things are great.

Q: You have worked with Whitney Houston in the past — do you think she can come back successfully?

A: Give her time and she will be fine. I think we have to let her do her thing. We need to give people more space. We have all walked difficult paths in our lives. It is necessary for some people to experience intense lows so they know what not to do.

Q: There are many young music stars out there suffering from drug addiction. How did you manage to overcome your problem?

A: By appreciating what I have that is good in my life. I received guidance from a close set of family and friends who helped me through it. I now spend a lot more time with my family and keep myself busy and focused with projects such as my new album.

Q: You have been labelled the "Queen of Funk Soul" — how do you feel about that?

A: I feel very honoured to be labelled with such a title! It is like when you are nominated for awards —just being nominated is a great privilege. I try my hardest to be the best I can and I am glad that people would associate me with such a statement.

Q: How do you manage to stay looking so young?

A: I drink a lot of water all the time. I look after myself by eating well, I love to walk and that is about it. Oh, and I moisturise twice a day!

Q: I’m Every Woman became a global feminist anthem — do you consider yourself a feminist?

A: In the sense that I care about women’s rights and other people’s rights, I am. But I truly believe that everybody should be treated equally. I love the song and what it represents and I hope that it helps other women feel as empowered as I did when I was singing it. When I perform it, the guys love it just as much. I see them with their arms in the air and they know all the words!

Q: Does it feel good to be back on stage?

A: Real good! I love it and the reaction I get from the crowd always lifts me up. It’s an indescribable feeling when you have an entire room full of people singing along to your song. It’s better than any drug!

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