Chaka Khan ‘Chaka’ (BBR) 4/5

chaka-khanThis original debut album in 1978 from soul legend Chaka Khan came at a time when she had already established herself as one of the young new turcs on the soul scene since she was simultaneously lead singer with Rufus. Ace jazz producer Arif Mardin, who had just scored chart success with the Average White Band, and would go on to produce the likes of George Benson and Al Jarreau, was enlisted and that meant a stellar cast of session musicians including members of AWB on backing vocals. The collaboration between Mardin and Khan was an extremely fruitful one that would last over five albums and culminate in ‘I feel for you’, which was smash hit on both side of the Atlantic and pretty much everywhere else.

Opening matters up is the anthemic ‘I’m every woman’ which has become one of Chaka’s signature tunes over time and little more needs to be said other than it is an essential acquisition in any format for genuine fans of soul music and a definitive slice of the classier side of disco. A duet with George Benson on the mid-tempo ‘We got the love’ proves to be an inspired one and, quite possibly, Mardin had an equivalent to the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway collaborative work in mind and obvious parallels between the two pairings can be made. For the more delicate side to Khan’s vocals, the warm ballad ‘Roll me through the rushes’ has long been a favourite of Chaka’s fan base and it provides the ideal vehicle to showcase her vocal range with some lovely subtle touches on keyboards. For a more left-field track, the decision to cover Lelome Washburn’s ‘The message in the middle of the bottom’ was the right one and fuses funk and blues to thrilling effect, being especially heavy on percussion. No bonus cuts are included or really needed, and fans of the much later remixed version from the 1990s of ‘I’m every woman’ will have to search elsewhere. Otherwise an impeccable debut and an indicator of the immense talent that Chaka Khan possesses in that multi-octave voice of hers. One personal request from this writer. Next up the 1981 album ‘What cha’ gonna do for me’ would be a wonderful set for CD re-issue.

Tim Stenhouse