@ 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
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. Khan
“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 one.”
Chaka Khan press conference with Carole Clemesha
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
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
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’.