A few days before the singer Chaka Khan would win two Grammys for Funk This, her first album in 10 years, she was sitting at Sardi’s in midtown: skin glowing, hair unending, taking a long draw on a Parliament. “I’m fine,” she said, when asked if smoking was O.K. for her voice. “There is a way to keep my voice in order. One of them is to shut up. I hibernate. I sleep as long as possible when I’m working. And then I come out.”
Ms. Khan (currently starring to “eh” reviews as Sofia, the sassy wife of Harpo, in Broadway’s The Color Purple) and her producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam made Funk This in a way that has long gone out of style: going live to tape. “That’s how we used to do it,” she said. “We made mistakes and we kept on going. Beautiful mistakes … We didn’t have Pro Tools [recording software currently in use by about 90 percent of the recording industry] in the 70’s. You’ve got be able to do it live. And why shouldn’t you be able to do it? Hell, you’ve got to do it onstage? You better be able to do it in the studio.”
Ms. Khan, an ageless 54, made a further point about the digitization of the modern recording industry (which was looming right around the time she and former band Rufus recorded “Ain’t Nobody,” the classic 1983 party track that Quincy Jones almost got for Michael Jackson’s Thriller). “Computers bring people into the mix who don’t belong there,” she said, alluding to today’s Pro Tools engineers, who as often as not know nothing about music, but can make an out-of-time drummer sound like a machine. “They’re using knobs and buttons to polish a turd,” Ms. Khan said. “They’re trying to be someone they’re not. They missed their calling…People have gotten too anal with music, They’re used to perfection. Music is not that kind of thing. It’s wild honesty and beautiful self-expression. Sometimes you hit a bad note, you know. It’s all right.”
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