Singer Kelis finds the perfect recipe for a life in music

Stir the pot: Kelis has been integrating music, food and family all her life; her father played jazz, her mother ran a catering business.

Kelis talks about her sixth studio album – Food – and hosting the cooking show Saucy & Sweet.

A cellphone photo captures a moment while Kelis’ latest album, Food, was being made that suggests a cool dinner party more than a recording session. A group of friends is gathered in a dining room. These are musicians turning work into play – horns and keyboards are in hand and food is on the table.

One can almost hear the jokes, the melodies, the conversation unfolding in a casual late-night atmosphere. No one looks like they’re in a hurry to get home.

The image appears on the sleeve of the album, which Kelis conjured in the home studio of her neighbour in Los Angeles, TV and Radio producer and band member David Sitek.

It’s steeped in soul, African hi-life horns, and hints of jazz, Latin and gospel, but it doesn’t sound like the singer is raiding the past so much as taking a snapshot of where she is now as a 34-year-old artiste/chef/mother.

“I don’t want to make retro albums,” Kelis says. “But the records I grew up with had honesty, heart – something that had girth to it. I had a really good childhood, music was around me all the time. It felt good. My house smelled good and it felt good all the time.

“I wanted some of that for this album. Everything was played live. When we had everybody in there, those were the nights we remember the most – everybody around the dining room table, making music. A lot of the time I was cooking, and Dave would cook too. The music mixed very well with that.”

Kelis Rogers has been integrating music, food and family all her life. While growing up in Harlem, she was around music-makers and cooks all day. Her father played jazz, her mother ran a catering business.

At 15 she was writing and performing in high school plays, and at 16 she met the production team the Neptunes, including Pharrell Williams, who collaborated with her on her first three albums and the massive 2003 hit Milkshake.

She’s bounced from style to style on albums that often defy category – the singer owns the notion that as a musical chameleon she’s “consistently inconsistent.”

Now Kelis is on her sixth studio album and hosts a cooking show, Saucy & Sweet on the Cooking Channel.

“Anyone who knows me, they’re not surprised about the cooking,” she says. “That was part of the plan since I was 18 – it’s not a newfound hobby.”

It factored heavily in the making of Food, which took shape informally after she and Sitek talked about getting together for a day or two last year and doing some recording.

“It was one of those I-understand- him-he-understands-me moments, and a couple of days turned into a couple of months. We didn’t have any intention of making an album, until we found ourselves in the middle of one.”

Though Kelis has recorded in all kinds of settings, she appreciated the put-your-feet-up atmosphere of Sitek’s home as an ideal environment for her music.

“I don’t do a lot of planning, it’s more spontaneous,” she says. “When it’s going well, you have this energy and it starts to roll and become its own thing. I don’t think we ever talked about what the album was going to be – this series of songs about being a mum (she has a four-year-old son), having a family, and what that means.

“It was like, ‘I love this’, and let’s do something with this guitar lick or rhythm loop or word, and two hours later you had a song. We’re not reinventing the wheel – music should be fun and easy, even though it isn’t always.”

She says she avoids creative dry zones by steering away from them.

“If the song doesn’t come to me easily, I generally move on. I don’t fuss over it much. In culinary school, there was a chef who told me, ‘Don’t manhandle the food’.

“That’s a good mantra for life too: don’t try too hard. Walk away if it’s not working. Don’t force it. If you have the foundation as a songwriter, it’s a matter of bringing out that moment in its most honest form.” — Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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