Chaka Khan's Travelling Life

17 July 2015
Read Time: 3.5 mins

Chaka Khan, the soul, funk and jazz singer-songwriter, reveals her favourite music venue (hint: it's in Tokyo and New York); why London and Amsterdam have the best music scenes; the reason she always brings sage for her hotel room; and recalls a "frightening" experience during air strikes in Iraq.

How often do you travel?

Too often for work. Recently I went from New York to Hawaii and then to Chicago and Florida and back to Los Angeles, where I am based. I’m not in love with Los Angeles but I do prefer living somewhere near the sea.

Your earliest memory of travelling abroad?

When I was 17, after I joined Rufus [the funk band]. One of our first gigs was in Japan and we went there every year for nearly 40 years, so I know it quite well.

 Osaka reminds Chaka of Chicago. Picture: Getty Images

Osaka is my favourite city in Japan. It reminds me a lot of Chicago, where I grew up, because a river runs through it. It felt more soulful than other parts of Japan.

What do you need for a perfect holiday?

I like being anywhere near the coast because being near the sea tends to normalise and relax people. I travel enough for work, so I’m quite a homebody and enjoy gardening or watching nature programmes or a detective series.

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Favourite places abroad?

I’ve always loved Great Britain. It’s like a second home to me. I had a house in West Hampstead for about 30 years, which I sold this year.

I don’t think London has changed much since I lived there. I loved the club scene and going out, because I didn’t get harassed as much by the press as I did in the US.

I also love how you could get on the Eurostar and be in another part of Europe in a couple of hours. I also love Switzerland, and lived in Montreux, on Lake Geneva, for around nine months while recording there years ago and it was so beautiful.

 Montreux in Switzerland sits by Lake Geneva. Picture: Getty Images

I love everything about Switzerland, from the weather to the lay of the land, which I think really determines how the people are. It offers as close to a perfect life you can have on Earth.

I lived in Germany for a while in a little village in the Rhine Valley and also in Mannheim. The south of Germany has some of the best food on the planet.

City with the best music scene?

London. There was always such a diverse range of music playing on the radio when I lived there, from Frank Sinatra to Prince. I loved that. There’s also great music coming out of Amsterdam as well as America.

Favourite soul/jazz music venue in the world?

The Blue Note clubs in New York and Tokyo are great. The one in New York is all about the music, while the one in Tokyo is more about the scene and you never know who you’ll bump into there, including myself.

Favourite part of the US?

I like the Pacific north-west of America, around San Francisco and also near Canada. Even though I live in LA, I actually don’t need to have sun all the time.

 The moody blues of San Francisco. Picture: Getty Images

That’s why I loved living in London. I like rain and moody, atmospheric weather. I like seasonal changes as it’s what I grew up with in Chicago.

Favourite city you’ve toured in?

I usually don’t get to see much of the cities I’m touring but the people are the best way to get to know a city and its culture. I wanted to be an anthropologist before I became a musician, because I love people.

The most remote place you have been?

Iraq. I was there for about a month years ago performing at a few remote military bases and it was horrible. It was oppressively hot and extremely depressing and everything, from the sky to the air, just had this dirty orange colour. There were some air strikes while I was there and it was a frightening, sobering experience.

Favourite hotel?

I love the Plaza Athenee in New York. It has a boutique feel and I prefer small hotels. The staff are very attentive. I don’t ask for much when it comes to a hotel. It just needs to be 5-star and very clean.

 The Plaza Athenee in New York has attentive staff. Picture: Plaza Athenee

Your travelling essentials?

I always bring sage. A lot of crazy stuff happens in hotel rooms, so I like to burn sage oil when I arrive; it’s a spiritually cleansing type of ritual for me.

I also always bring a Bible, a crucifix and holy water. I really value my private space and like to make it my own at hotels. I bring my favourite colourful scarves to throw over the lamp shades to play with the lighting and create my own atmosphere.

Favourite airline?

For international travel, British Airways is the best. It’s always a pleasant experience.

Best piece of travel advice?

If you’re flying long-haul, start acclimatising yourself to the time zone of your destination while you’re on the plane to give your body and mind a head start on fighting the jet lag.

Worst travel experience?

Travelling in Nigeria was a nightmare. Everyone seemed uptight and it was hard to find a decent hotel.

Where next?

I’d like to visit Nova Scotia and see Halifax. From what I’ve seen on television, it has got a fishing village vibe, which I like, and it doesn’t feel too overproduced. On a very different note, I’d also love to see Jerusalem and the rest of Israel: I have heard many things about the country.

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This article was written by Interview by Soo Kim from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Soo Kim

Soo Kim is an editor and reporter for Telegraph Travel. She also commissions the celebrity travel columns Travelling Life and My Kind of Town, as well as travel gear, kit and accessories content. She is also the editor of The Big Picture photography column.