Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

With 40+ years in the music industry, Chaka Khan has performed just about every genre of popular music. 2019’s Hello Happiness is an ongoing testament to that free spirit. A 70’s funk party with electronic production from Switch (MIA, Major Lazer, Beyonce) and Sarah Ruba Taylor (New Look, DJ Leppy), the new album honors her career roots for a new generation. However, in the producers’ zeal to modernize Khan’s sound, there are times when her vocal presentation suffers.

Out of the gate, the title track is a groove that should be played at every roller-skate party (and yes, people still roller skate!). “Hello Happiness” is a solid keyboard/bass groove awash in reverberating sonic drops. It’s as if the listener is transported to a space funk universe. But at about three minutes and some change you’re ready to travel to the next destination. Sounded as if Chaka herself was ready to move on between 3:26 – 3:38 as her bluesy ad-lib breakdown temporarily saps the track of its dance steam.

With a swoosh, we arrive at “Like a Lady”. By this time in the record we’re aware of the 70’s funk hologram surrounding us. That is until the reverb drops from the song, leaving us with a dry vocal and piano pass. It’s Chaka Khan for god’s sake so there’s nothing wrong with that except the fact that until then, the song {and much of the album} is drowned in reverb. This isn’t a total surprise given the dub and dancehall production credits of the producers. What I didn’t expect however was for Chaka herself to become just another sample on her own album as on the forgettable track, “Don’t Cha Know”. When you’re working with a vocalist of this caliber, longtime fans expect more.

“Like Sugar”, the album’s first single, contains a sample of “(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop” by The Fatback Band. The track was originally a 2016 single for Ruba from the Netflix show, The Get Down. Hearing both versions, you realize that Khan is singing on top of Ruba’s vocals in the chorus and some ad-libs here. As Ruba performs background vocals through the entire project, this doubling is probably happening more than we realize and this could be my issue with the album. Both women have a strong vocal presence. But concerning the vocal presentation, at times it feels as if Khan is a special guest as opposed to the main reason we’re here.

The hologram lifts a bit on the bluesy “Too Hot”. Hearing Khan’s upfront and gritty vocal sans all the reverb is a treat. The reggae-style cooker, “Isn’t That Enough” is equally nice – one that sparks curiosity as to what a full reggae album would sound like coming from Chaka. The EP ends with an acoustic guitar take on “Like a Lady” called “Ladylike”.

Overall Hello Happiness is a lively addition to Chaka’s discography. Go into the record knowing that it’s a collection of fun dance songs – a mostly electronic experience with Chaka’s essence.

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