It's been four decades since Chaka Khan made her solo debut with "I'm Every Woman," an instant smash that earned her the title "Queen of Funk" and penetrated nightclubs everywhere. But the R&B legend isn't done with dance music. Last Thursday, April 14, the eve of the Coachella music festival, she surprised partygoers at a nearby villa when she arrived just after 2 a.m. with her two siblings — fellow singers Taka Boom (born Yvonne Stevens) and Mark Stevens — and grabbed the mic.
The trio was there to perform "House of Love," a glamorous, soulful track that puts Khan's honey vocals over punchy horns, glistening crescendos and a party-primed chorus. The single is the Stevens siblings' first collaboration, and the party, thrown by the underground Los Angeles promoter A Club Called Rhonda, was their first family performance.
Khan says they hadn't seriously considered working together until now. "We were all busy doing our own thing," she tells NPR. "It was never discussed." But when producers Jamie Petrie and Mark Bell approached Taka Boom with the song, the timing felt right. "The stars had aligned," Khan says.
Bell and Petrie, a writing duo who go by the moniker FOMO, have known each other since the mid-1990s, when they both worked in London's music scene. Petrie is still based there, but Bell has since relocated to Los Angeles, where he runs Shaboom Records out of a studio downtown. He and Taka Boom have recorded together for years, and he says "House of Love" was written with her in mind. But once she heard the hooks, she convinced Khan and Stevens to get involved, and they all wrote variations on the verses.
The single is more than a token for the family scrapbook, however. It's also a move to inject raw emotion back into electronic music. (In 2013, Daft Punk made a similar plea with the award-winning album Random Access Memories, which pointedly recorded dance-floor beats with real instruments.) Khan, who came up in the disco and house movements of the '70s and '80s, says she can relate to the current dance music craze, but that it lacks a human finesse.
"We get it, we invented it," she says. "We lost our minds already. But ... learn to play an instrument. If you need to be Auto-Tuned, you don't need to be singing."
Bell echoes her sentiments. "It's a dance record built of mainly live performances," he says. "Some people will get it, others probably won't. Having such talented musicians to work with was a plus."
When FOMO releases the song next month, it will be accompanied by a set of remixes from DJ Dmitry, Eric D. Clark, Yousef, Split Secs and Tripmastaz. The pair is also working on a full-length album.
House of Love comes out May 20 on Shaboom.