Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2012: Ramsey Lewis (Festival Edition)

Janelle Monáe

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Like her contemporaries Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, Janelle Monáe is a very complex, creative and unique artist who is utilizing all of her influences in an exceptionally compelling way. She is fearless—with her singing, with her performance style, and with her whole musical concept.

I saw Janelle Monáe live at the MTS Centre last summer when her band opened for teen pop sensation Katy Perry. Six degrees of separation comes into play here: I was actually roommates with Monáe’s guitartist, Kellindo Parker, in New York! He’s a phenomenal jazz guitarist and singer, and nephew of the great saxophonist Maceo Parker. All of the musicians in Monáe’s band are very accomplished, and they all contribute to this highly creative and funkalicious musical movement.

Monáe’s voice is clear and stunning, and unlike most pop stars, she does not rely on her sexuality to sell her music. As a matter of fact, she opts for men’s wear, buttoned up to the neck and down to the wrists. She is a great role model for our daughters: smart, strong, confident, creative—and not afraid of living it.

Her most recent recording project, The ArchAndroid, runs the gamut, with hip hop, jazz, Motown, R&B, pop, orchestral music, dance, and theatre all part of her performance concept. “Tightrope” is her commercial hit, and her love for James Brown is hugely evident in this song and her dance moves in the video. “BaBopBye Ya” is an ambitious, nine-minute track that features what sounds like a full orchestra, improvisation, and beautifully poised vocals. “Cold War” is also a standout for me. It’s multi-layered yet very stripped down—the lyrics here are very much the key to this song.

I think the reviewer from “The Needle Drop” said it very well: The ArchAndroid “spits in the face of the idea that as you get more popular you need to water down your art.” Monáe is generating a lot of attention, but she’s bringing her audiences to new heights as she moves forward.

Do yourself a favor. Treat yourself to her concert at the Burton Cummings Theatre on June 20, and take yourself on a trip. A very trippy trip. You’ll feel like you know her.

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