Every square inch of the room seemed to be occupied by a head, arm or leg just itching in the dimmed light for a chance to see the Kansas native baring gifts of creative genius, an uncompromising sense of style and degrees of originality that are scarce in 2010. Even curious bartenders swarmed the back of the bar for a glimpse of the young artist who had made such an impression on hip-hop mogul P Diddy that he immediately signed her Bad Boy records, knowing she had something unique to offer the world of music.
Truly a gig for her fans, the fresh and funky female revealed herself as one of the three cloaked figures at the front of the stage and dived hair-first into her set with no introduction; and none needed going by the crowd’s reaction. Limbs were flung high in the air with mobiles and cameras attached as ecstatic followers tried to capture the memorable moment of Janelle Monae’s arrival in London town. The anticipation instantly turned to excitement, resonated from the high stage hitting the crowd of 150+ like a solid wall of music-inspired freedom.
Monae and her electrifying three-piece band moved in the erratic rhythm that has come to define their unique style, combining the energy of a pentecostal preacher and an android with a fried circuit board. Dancing across and around Ms Monae, the two cloaked beings hiding their faces behind white venetian bird masks prowled the platform in what looked like a strange voodoo ritual. Bass, guitar and keys players donned crisp tuxedos and over sized glasses as they pounded away on their instruments without the slightest hint of a hiccup, while the star of the show zoned out and let her feet move to their funky rhythm in her refined style reminiscent of the early 20th Century cake walk dance.
Merging the end of one song into the beginning of the next, they smoked their way through a list of favourites from the new album The ArchAndroid including’’Locked Inside’, ‘Cold War’, ‘Tightrope’ and even a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic ‘Smile’. Although the stop-and-stare hair do repeatedly fell apart as a result of jerky dance moves and the heavy humidity, the singer kept the show rolling like a true entertainer. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now that despite her highly theatrical and exagerrated performances, Monae is a woman on a mission who takes her work seriously. It just happens to look like a lot of fun.
Words: Lawrence Gichigi