Musician Chaka Khan reflects on the disconnect in an age of social media

Grammy winner Chaka Khan will be doing a collaboration with British acid jazz pioneers Incognito in the opening gala show on Thursday. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
Grammy winner Chaka Khan will be doing a collaboration with British acid jazz pioneers Incognito in the opening gala show on Thursday. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

Funk queen Chaka Khan is working on songs about how strange the world is with social media

American funk, soul and R&B queen Chaka Khan has seen many things in over four decades as a singer and she has always turned these observations into songs.

Not one to rest on her laurels, the 61-year-old is working on a fresh batch of tunes, songs that reflect the sense of disconnect she feels has taken over the world.

"I'm trying to sing lyrics that have to do with the state of the world right now, how strange the world has become and with social media and people not talking face to face, children not knowing anything except their cellphones," the 10-time Grammy winner says in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

She is speaking ahead of her return to Singapore as one of the biggest names performing in the sophomore edition of the annual Singapore International Jazz Festival this year, or SingJazz for short. The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday at Marina Bay Sands and features acts ranging from British pop singer Jessie J and American singer Bobby McFerrin to local jazz stalwart Jeremy Monteiro and Malaysian singer Yuna.

Khan will be doing a collaboration with British acid jazz pioneers Incognito in the opening gala show on Thursday, which will also feature Cameroon-born jazz bassist Richard Bona.

Despite her views, Khan is not averse to social media and has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, which she fills with pictures of herself with younger artists such as Pharrell Williams, as well as words of praise for contemporary singers such as Rita Ora and Sam Smith.

And while there is the occasional shout out to her daughter Indira Khan, also a singer, Khan remains fiercely protective of her private life. She was married twice and has a son, Damien Patrick Holland.

"On social media, I have to take steps to be extra private about my life. People wanna know everything about you and will say anything about you, so I don't know if it's the best thing in the world to have happened," she says.

What she will say though, is that when she is not busy with her music or other projects, she spends time with her four grandchildren.

"I'm in the studio and, other than that, I am being a nana - a grandma - and I enjoy doing that very much," she says.

Khan is being a little modest though - she also runs the Chaka Khan Foundation that helps underprivileged women and children, and is working on a new perfume line.

Still, she is best known as a versatile singer who traverses genres ranging from jazz to pop. Besides evergreen hit tunes such as I'm Every Woman (1978), Ain't Nobody (1983) and Through The Fire (1984), the former singer for 1970s funk band Rufus is also a celebrated artist who has amassed 70 million album sales throughout the years.

Her extensive body of work, which includes more than 20 albums, and success in the music world have prompted her hometown of Chicago to rename the street where her former high school is located as Chaka Khan Way and to designate July 28 as Chaka Khan Day.

She is an inspiration to several generations of singers and musicians and regularly conducts masterclasses for budding artists.

One of the biggest lessons she imparts to young talents is to be more aware of the business aspect of the music industry.

"They should go to school and take legal courses so they can properly sign any special papers for contracts and stuff like that because there are a lot of people taking advantage of young musicians. They should know as much about the law as possible."

Ask her what keeps her going strong in her music and other projects and she answers simply:

"Life, just living. It's still very interesting to me and I'm still living it and I love what I do."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg