In one of those tragic, truly fucked twists of fate that can make life seem like a bad dream, trip-soul tandem Chakra Khan celebrated the release of their debut album (Love Is at the Core) on June 11, 2016, with a show at the Venue, the centerpiece of which was a moving, ethereal meditation on loss and renewal called "Pulse." Several hours later, 49 innocents would lose their lives at the gay nightclub Pulse in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. Vocalist and leader Alexandra Love remembers the evening and its immediate aftermath as an "intense experience ... something we could have never imagined." But in the same breath, she marvels at the way "the Orlando community rallied together after that night."
In many ways, Chakra Khan's new album – The Cope Aesthetic – builds on those memories and the grieving and then healing that followed. Love explains: "This album is certainly an homage to that experience, but possibly even more so a continuation of the love, togetherness and essential awareness of the days we live in now. The Cope Aesthetic pays tribute to the life we all experienced together, as well as a signaling to the emerging consciousness that is so imperative to our current time."
Chakra Khan are, in so many ways, a reconciliation of seemingly opposite concepts. The band is a new beginning, a chance for seasoned veterans – Alexandra Love and beatmaker/soundscapist Divinci have been part of hip-hop collective Solillaquists of Sound since 2002 – to stake their own aural space; the sound is a synthesis of celestial new age ambience and booming hip-hop rhythms. More than just music, Chakra Khan are a hybrid of sonics and movement and feeling, easily moving from opening for Ms. Lauryn Hill to teaching meditation.
The new album greatly expands the aesthetic template set forth in Love Is at the Core, combining disparate genres on a grander scale, while still somehow retaining an essential intimacy. "The Cope Aesthetic definitely reaches into some new territories for us," Love reflects. "[The record] is certainly vocally and musically jazz-inspired, but also explores some really beautiful symphonic and electro soundscapes." And yet, working methods favored spontaneity: "Divinci would play me just a drum loop, a melodic loop, or whatever he was working on, and I would record a full song to it immediately."
Atop these ambitious sonic washes floats Love's most cohesive lyrical statement yet: "The Cope Aesthetic is a representation of how beauty can be found even in coping with some pretty heavy life experiences. There is harmony in the climb, and there can be unity on the bridge between where we are and where we'd like to be." This show and an upcoming one at the Timucua White House (Aug. 13) signal a gradual slowdown in live work from Chakra Khan, but they're going out with a conceptual bang, enlisting the Raskin Dance Studio to "help create a visual story." Concertgoer, heal thyself.
Chakra Khan play a CD release show at the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 3 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.