@ Pigeon Island, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
9 May 2009
Click an image to enlarge.
Growing up in Chicago between the 1950’s
-1960’s, Chaka Khan – born Yvette Marie Stevens –
developed an early awareness of the creative and political movements
around her. She formed her first singing group when she was 11 and
joined the Black Panthers in her late teens, heading up their free
breakfast program for kids. By age 20, she had found the perfect
outlet for her creative energy as the singer for Rufus, and five
years later, as a breakout solo artist. Known for a catalogue of
classic hits: “Tell Me Something Good,” “Sweet
Thing,” “Once You Get Started,” “Everlasting
Love,” “Do You Love What You Feel” and “Ain't
Nobody” to name a few.
Khan has worked in practically every genre of music
from pop, R&B, rock, disco, world music and fusion to jazz,
rap, hip-hop, and classical. The diverse list of distinguished collaborators
with whom Khan has recorded includes but is not limited to Ray Charles,
Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson, Rod Stewart,
Manhattan Transfer, Dizzy Gillespie, Gladys Knight, Joe Henderson,
Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Lenny White, Bobby McFerrin, Melle Mel,
Lionel Hampton, Eric Clapton, Fourplay, Peter Cetera, Queen Latifah,
Brandy, Tamia, Kanye West, Shaggy, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Clarke,
Ry Cooder, Bruce Hornsby, Guru, Phil Collins, De La Soul, Michael
MacDonald, Steve Winwood, and, Miles Davis. Emotive vocals have
been the trademark of Ms. Khan who has graced the soundtracks of
several movies including “Clockers,” “Set It Off,”
“To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,”
“Miami Vice,” “White Knights,” “Moscow
on the Hudson,” “Disappearing Acts,” “Waiting
to Exhale,” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown,”
and the recent Tyler Perry hit “Madea's Family Reunion".
Winner of the 1995 London's Best Actress Capitol
Radio Listener's Poll Award Recipient for “Mama, I Want to
Sing”, a Diamond Life Awardee of Excellence from the International
Association of African-American Music (IAAAM), recipient of the
“Soul Train's Lena Horne Lady of Soul Career Achievement Award”,
declared a “power mover” by Vibe Magazine, and given
the date October 19th as Chaka Khan Day by the State of Illinois
and the City of Chicago.
A renowned proponent of ‘old school’
soul music, her energy, dynamism, and passion through live performances
for over three decades, Khan has brought her special brand of vocal
magic to audiences the world over. Her prowess as a credited creative
force behind her impressive catalogue of solo albums is one that
is held in high regard by her peers: executive producer for the
1992 Grammy-winning “The Woman I Am" and Khan’s
1998 album “Come 2 My House” featuring a number of Khan
compositions. Khan’s range as an artist is both timeless and
limitless as demonstrated in her ability to interpret a range of
enduring songs associated with artists such as Peggy Lee, Patsy
Cline, Shirley Bassey, Oscar Brown Jr. and Lena Horne, captured
on her 2004 release “Classikhan,” recorded with the
London Philharmonic Orchestra.
But it’s away from the stage and the recording
studio that Khan's light has continued to promote a need for change.
Her inspiring autobiography “Through The Fire” was acclaimed
for its soul-bearing candour and honesty and her commitment to women
and children at risk is seen through her countless hours of dedication
to the Chaka Khan Foundation. Formed in 1999, the Foundations’
initiative has involved a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified
School district mentoring 5th and 6th grade students who are college-bound.
Of her work with the Foundation and her other philanthropic endeavours
which include participation in numerous charity benefits devoted
to conquering AIDS and HIV prevention, Khan simply says, “It's
time to build up and time to give back”.
Entrepreneurial in spirit, Khan’s entertainment
company Chaka Khan Enterprises is definitely a family affair. Her
mother, Sandra Coleman, works as her business manager; and her sister,
Tammy McCrary, is her personal manager; while her daughter Milini
(who enjoyed success as the lead singer for the group Pretty in
Pink) has a burgeoning solo career and her son Damien is also an
aspiring record producer. In addition to the Chaka Khan Foundation,
Khan is also responsible for her own line of chocolates ("Chakalates"),
sold in Neiman Marcus Stores and the guiding force behind her own
Earthsong record label.
Honoured by BET with a much-deserved “Lifetime
Achievement Award,” Khan’s enduring spirit and passion
for music and life have endeared her to music lovers the world over.
“Music has always been the background
theme to life,” she states, “and people are profoundly
affected by what they hear. I think I always knew I’d forever
be doing this. It’s what I was put it for. It’s always
been kind of like a ministry – now it’s a conscious
Chaka Khan press conference with Carole
As I was pushed forward for an inevitably short
interview (due to her imminent appearance on stage), I marvelled
at Chaka Khan’s youthful appearance. Khan first performed
in front of a St. Lucia patrons in 1997. Her performance back then
was not well received by either critics or patrons who not only
voiced concern at the gig sound quality, but they also felt Ms Khan’s
overall presence and attitude was not exactly engaging!
I welcomed Ms Khan back to St Lucia. Her response:
“Oh yes, I knew I had been here before.”
With a quick glance to her Manager, as if to confirm.
I reassured her that it was 12 years ago (1997)
in a hotel venue as opposed to main stage at Pigeon Island. She
grinned and very firmly shook my hand. Khan looked relaxed and radiant
as she chatted.
Khan was adamant in her views regarding Amy Winehouse’s
predicament. “She needs to have real friends around her
who are not musicians, who will be honest with her, I should know,
I have been where she is…her talent is understated!”
She was then rushed off with a bubbly wave, a shake
of the huge mass of hair, cool looking casual jeans and a flourish
of gypsy-style sleeves.
Khan’s up-coming performance was highly anticipated,
as expected from such a veteran diva. She also had something to
prove to hardcore St. Lucian patrons and critics who will definitely
remember her 1997 performance.
Khan immediately took command of the Pigeon Island
stage and powered through her anthems, “Tell Me Something
Good”, “Sweet Thing” and “Ain’t Nobody”
were just a few of the many memorable moments. Khan was in the mood
for the party atmosphere here, she had patron’s hearts and
souls in the palm of her hand.
It was obvious that previous vocalists had experienced
technical issues with either the microphone provided, or mixing
engineers. Khan used her own personal microphone adorned with taylor
made cloth drape. She may have also possibly travelled with her
own mixing engineer? The results of such professional decisions
were clear as her searing vocals were not only delivered cleanly,
you could also hear every spoken word and soulful phrase at different
positions throughout Pigeon Island.
Khan was clearly enjoying the Pigeon Island experience
as much as the patrons themselves. She didn’t move much on
stage, but she didn’t have too, her songs, her voice and her
smile was enough to fill the stage and beyond with soulful sunshine.
Her relaxed, but potent aura even encouraged an over eager Nicole
David to join Khan for her “I’m Every Woman” finale…all
sisters on stage together (or so she must have thought). Unfortunately
it was clear from Khan’s body language that there was really
only enough room for one diva on the stage at that point. Obviously,
the adage ‘two women cannot share the same kitchen’
can occasionally have relevance for the stage environment, especially
when one of the two women is the diva ‘Chaka Khan’.